Class Lists are traditionally published outside Senate Housecmglee

The General Board of the Faculties has requested a proposal recommending the abolition of published Class Lists, Varsity can reveal.

University documents seen by Varsity through a Freedom of Information request show that it was agreed at a meeting of the General Board of the Faculties in February that a report should be compiled “proposing the abolition of the practice of public display of Class Lists in any location.”

The report of the General Board, which is chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, follows a consultation with the colleges and faculties, in which “the majority” agreed that class lists should cease to be displayed publicly.

Under the current system, lists of names accompanied by degree classes, organised by tripos and part, are released on the boards outside Senate House. Students can currently opt-out of having their names published if they specify their reasons, an option which the university says is taken up by approximately 30 students a year.

The move follows the ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’ petition, circulated last year, which called for students to have more say about how and where their examination results are made available. The petition received over 1,200 signatures.

The proposal, if approved by the University Council, could spell the end for the Tompkins table, which is compiled by ex-Trinity mathematician Peter Tompkins using the publicly available data and published in The Independent. The General Board’s report stated that “classing information would no longer be released to The Independent, and as a result the Tompkins table would cease to be published.”

The proposal still remains to be approved by the University Council before it is adopted. The length of the consultation makes it unlikely that any changes would be implemented before the end of this academic year.

Last November, CUSU voted to formally oppose the publication of class list, saying: “The current system of class lists denies students privacy with their results and is damaging for the welfare of many students.”

Priscilla Mensah, CUSU’s president, told Varsity “CUSU has been fully engaged in the discussions this year and welcomes the decision made by the General Board’s Education Committee. We’re very encouraged by the progression of the campaign to eradicate the negative culture created by league tables (and public class lists) in Cambridge. Indeed, there is still some way to go, and we’ll keep pushing to the end of our year”.

Cambridge is currently the only university in the UK to publicly display class lists, after the University of Oxford abolished theirs in 2009.

Consultation held with Colleges and Faculties

On the 11th November last year, a circular was sent out from the General Board via its Academic Division to the secretaries of the Faculties and Departments, Senior Tutors and Proctors. It sought views on the “future of published Class Lists.”

The circular noted the support shown for the ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’ petition, with the General Board describing its own position at the release of the circular as “sympathetic to the notion that Class Lists should no longer be made publicly available.”

It pointed to the example of Oxford, where they said an opt-out system had resulted in 40 per cent of students choosing not to have their grades publicly displayed. If the same thing were to happen at Cambridge, the report said, the workload placed upon several groups which compile the lists would have to be considered.

The circular asked for its recipients to indicate their preference for one of four options: “(A) abolishing publication of Class Lists; (B) greater flexibility for individual students to opt out; (C) partial publication; or (D) no change.”

The results of the circular, which were compiled by the Academic Division, showed that the “majority of Colleges were in favour of abolishing public displays of Class Lists”, with the caveat that class lists should remain available to colleges for use towards “legitimate academic purposes.” This included being able to use wider results data to determine student performance in comparison to the entire exam group, and also for awarding prizes. This view was supported by the Faculties and Departments.

Only one unspecified Cambridge college chose option D, though it reportedly noted the “likelihood of being in a minority”. There was no support for option B, and little for C.

On the issue of the continued publication of both the Tompkins and Baxter tables, only one college sought their continued existence without any changes being made. The findings from the circular note that “a number [of colleges] thought both should be disposed of, citing their inadequacies”, with a larger number of colleges saying that they “would not object to Tompkins disappearing.” It was noted that, due to the manner in which it is produced, abolition of public class lists would have the effect of ending the publication of the Tompkins table anyway.

There was wider support for the Baxter table, which is compiled and circulated internally, continuing to exist in some form, with respondents suggesting that the university makes improvements to it by examining the strengths of Oxford’s Norrington table. It was noted by one faculty that prospective students had shown an interest in the university’s internal league tables.

CUSU fully opposes league tables

The report also noted that “CUSU opposes any form of intercollegiate league table”, including both the Tompkins and the Baxter tables. This contradicts the CUSU Council motion on the topic, agreed upon last November, in which it was decided after an amendment that CUSU would “campaign to get rid of the Tompkins Table and amend the way in which other tables will be published.” The initial motion put before CUSU Council had indeed proposed that CUSU would campaign to stop all “cross-collegiate academic metrics”, but this was changed following a vote.

“CUSU stands by the continued, internal collection of data for the Baxter table so that Colleges can measure their performance over time,” Mensah told Varsity, “rather than directly against the performance of students at other named Colleges”.

There was some debate over whether Class Lists should be published at a later date in the university Reporter. Some said this was important in order to make it harder for students to misrepresent their academic record, while others said results “should not be placed in the public domain.”

It was proposed that “a Report to the Regent House be drafted proposing the abolition of the practice of public displays of Class Lists.” It was also decided that the names of prize winners should continue to be announced, and that arrangements for the publication of graduate student results should not be changed.

This proposal was then put before the Education Committee of the General Board of the Faculties. At a meeting on 20th January, the committee agreed with the the proposal’s recommendations “on the grounds that information about an individual’s Class should be regarded as confidential,” and was already available “to those who had legitimate reasons to require it.”

In addition, it was recorded that the changes “would mean that the ceremony conducted in the Senate House by the Faculty of Mathematics to announce Parts II and III results would no longer be permissible.” In the current ceremony, the top undergraduate Mathematics student is awarded the title of ‘Senior Wrangler’, and the Class List for Mathematics is read aloud.

It was agreed that, subject to practical considerations, anonymised markbooks for all exams should be distributed to each college, showing the names of only their own students.

The General Board requested a draft version of a proposal to abolish Class Lists at its meeting on 10th February, following the recommendation of the Education Committee.