University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Students: New grade of 12+ will increase the pressure

Karakterer — Minister for Higher Education and Research Tommy Ahlers has aired expanding the grading scale with a 12+ grade. It will reward exceptional students who dare to take chances and make mistakes. On South Campus, however, it is hard to find students who like the idea.

First the Minister for Higher Education and Research Tommy Ahlers encouraged students to share their mistakes and to go against the culture of perfection. Then he aired the idea of enlarging the grading scale at the top end where the fewest mistakes are made.

If it is up to the government, 12 should no longer be the highest step on the Danish grading scale. The top grade should now also come with a plus ‘+’ sign: 12+.

The question is what does he mean by this. How do you take on the culture of perfection by getting the students to strive for something higher?

The minister explained that 12+ is not a grade for the students who have no errors. It is a reward to him or her who has dared to think big, and to think originally – knowing that it could go wrong.

»We need a culture on our study programmes that motivates and encourages young people to perform and take chances, and to challenge themselves through their study programmes. The grading scale and the way we use the grades needs to help this,« Tommy Ahlers said in a press release.

»That is why we are now changing the scale, so there is less focus on shortcomings, and we are introducing 12+. So there is a reward for doing something extraordinary, and not just being flawless. This will help us to get to grips with the culture of perfection, and make sure that Denmark educates talented, independent and courageous young people.«

Oh, so you only got a 12?

At South Campus, some of the young people who are to be talented, independent and courageous, are sweating over their exam assignments inside and away from the spring sun.

Here it is difficult to find support for Tommy Ahlers’ idea. Some of the students that the University Post talks to say they are indifferent to the minister’s proposal. But the vast majority of students criticise it.

We need a culture on our study programmes that motivates and encourages young people to perform and take chances, and to challenge themselves through their study programmes.

Tommy Ahlers

And none of them supports it.

»The idea arises from a discussion about the fact that there is too much competition for grades. And I fail to understand why there will be less competition from being able to get an extra excellent grade,« says Amalie Davidsen, who is studying international security and law at the University of Southern Denmark and has a bachelor in religious studies from the University of Copenhagen.

But can’t you see the point, that it is precisely a grade for the talented students who dare to make a gamble – and maybe fail?

»There is the risk that the grade will not end up being used according to its intent. I am worried that it will be like this: ‘Oh, so you only got a 12? You didn’t get a 12+’. I am concerned that 12 ends up not being a top grade, but an almost, but not quite there, grade.«

Amalie Rasmussen, who is a student of cross-cultural studies at the University of Copenhagen is standing next to her:

»Yes, it will be another thing to stress out over.«

Rasmussen recognises that some students feel that it is difficult to be rewarded for an extraordinary effort when the top grade 12 is awarded so often. But she does not think that a new, top, grade is the solution, but better feedback instead.

»It is the feedback on what you are doing, that should be key, and not the grade in itself. You can easily get a 12 and then be told by your instructor that your assignment might be published as a scientific article. Then you know that you have done something extraordinary.«

In the aula at KUA2, three students sit around a bunch of colourful books adorned with Japanese characters. They all study Japanese studies – and they all agree with Amalie Rasmussen that there is a need for more feedback and not a new top grade.

Especially if you want to take away some of the pressure on students.

»I do not think that the new grade will do this. It will only mean that you have to aim higher. I think it will only increase the pressure,« says Kevin Korsbakke.

»Yes, then you’ve suddenly ‘only’ got a twelve, if you don’t also get a plus,« adds Kendt Blackfyre.

Panic at law

The Faculty of Law is known as one of the study programmes of the University of Copenhagen, where the pressure to perform is at the highest level. Partly because several lawyer firms have fixed requirements for applicants’ grade sheets.

Two who are training to be lawyers, Eida Omar and Andreas Dannevang, actually think that the idea behind the government’s proposal is sensible.

»I can see the intention that you want to give a little gold star to those who try to do something special – and succeed,« says Andreas Dannevang.

I am worried that it will be like this: ‘Oh, so you only got a 12? Not a 12+?’

Student Amalie Rasmussen

»The intention is good,« says Eida Omar. »They encourage us to not just reel off the syllabus, but to dare to take a gamble on something.«

But they are both opponents of the 12+ grade.

One thing is that Omar and Dannevang find it hard to see how you can think out of the box on the law programme, where many of the exams are on ready information concerning cases and paragraphs. They reckon that the grade will set off a panic among the students who are already aiming for the highest rung on the grade ladder.

»I think that it already seems like people are really pressured by the grade race. So if you also suddenly need a grade to think out of the box, then I think there are many who will think that this is what they now need to go for. And this will just increase the pressure,« says Eida Omar.

Still far away from reality

It is not certain, however, that students will have to worry about a plus behind the 12 grade.

The press release from the Ministry for Higher Education and Science states that an expert group has to be set up to propose a revised grade scale – and not just at the highest end. As a result, the change will not take place in the near future and certainly not before the upcoming Danish general election.

On top of the grade for an extraordinary effort, the expert group will also to propose ways to minimise the leaps between the individual grade steps, and clarify what it takes to land on them.

And Jesper Langergaard, director of the lobby Universities Denmark, says you need to brace yourself with patience.

»In general, we support the option of rewarding the student who delivers something extraordinary,« he says with reference to the government’s proposed 12+ grade.

»But it would probably have been more appropriate to wait for the expert group’s deliberations, so that there was a comprehensive proposal.«

It has not been possible to get a comment from the Minister for Higher Education and Science Tommy Ahlers.