Nothing wrong with a Desmond – degree outcomes and international students

In a world where universities, employers and students are increasingly obsessed with league table performance, the number of ‘good honours’ degrees attained – defined  as 2:1s or first class degrees  – has become a significant criterion for ranking purposes. While it is entirely laudable that universities should strive to increase the number of students achieving top degree results, it does beg an obvious question: If 2:1 and firsts are good honours, does that mean students achieving 2:2s are bad or less good?

The Sunday Times ran a provocative piece this week based on research by Rory Sutherland, vice-president of advertising agency Ogilvy and proud owner of a 2:2 in Classics who commented that, as an employer, they would prefer to hire someone with a 2:2 degree who had lived a bit rather than someone who had spent three years holed up in a library who emerges with a 1st or 2:1.  If you have a Times account, you can read the full article here

With his tongue firmly in his cheek, he stereotypes  those who achieve 2:2s as slackers who enjoy partying and running student clubs and societies.  In essence, he argues that employers and others ought to be careful not to discard candidates who have obtained a second class degree or a third.

According to Jon Henley, writing in the Guardian last week, the roll call of famous people who have achieved a third class degree is both long and illustrious. It includes WH Auden, Lewis Caroll, AA Milne; Stanley Baldwin, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and, more recently, David Dimbleby, Christopher Hitchens, Hugh Laurie and Carol Vorderman.

The issue of degree classifications and international students raises another interesting question. While many of the international students we work with achieve first class and 2:1 degrees, approximately 40 per cent leave university with a 2:2. How does one measure their achievements? They will have obtained their degree through studying in a different language – English – will have spent at least three or four years fully immersed in a different culture, and have a network of contacts in the UK and in their home countries.

In an earlier blog post, we wrote about the importance of an international dimension to graduate employability and highlighted the value of an international experience and an ability to work across cultures as key attributes of an employable graduate.

Who might be more attractive to employers – a student with a 2:1 degree achieved in their native language, or a graduate with a 2:2 but who is also fluent in Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Thai with a powerful network of friends and colleagues in the UK and Asia?*

Now, to explain the heading:

A ‘Desmond’ is British rhyming slang for a 2:2 degree, named after Desmond Tutu, the South African cleric. A third class degree is often referred to as a ‘Thora’ – after the actress Thora Hird and a first class degree is known as a ‘Geoff’ – after the England footballer Geoff Hurst

Tim O'Brien

Author: Tim O'Brien

Tim is Vice President, Global Partner Development, INTO University Partnerships

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