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Universities ‘failing to mark down students’ for poor writing skills

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Universities ‘failing to mark down students’ for poor writing skills

Universities and colleges are failing to mark down students for poor spelling, grammar and punctuation, which is leading to grade inflation because of a misguided application of equalities legislation, according to England’s higher education regulator.

After a review of assessment policies at five institutions, the Office for Students (OfS) said it feared that staff being allowed to ignore errors in students’ written work was “widespread”. It warned that it was willing to punish universities for failing to tackle poor writing skills.

The review follows cases this year of institutions using “inclusive assessment” policies more widely, and only taking quality of writing into account in courses where it was deemed to be critical, leading to condemnation from ministers.

Susan Lapworth, the OfS’s director of regulation, said: “The common features we have seen in assessment policies suggest that poor spelling, punctuation and grammar may be accepted across the sector. In publishing this report, we are being clear with universities and colleges that we want to see change.

“Effective assessment should take into account all aspects of a student’s work, and this includes their ability to express themselves effectively and correctly in written English.”

The OfS said its inspectors “analysed examples of assessed student work from a range of modules and disciplines”, along with marking criteria and staff comments, to identify how “language accuracy” was being assessed in practice.

It said it found “common themes that gave us cause for regulatory concern”, including interpretations of the Equality Act and similar legislation made by several universities to justify not assessing proficiency in written English for all students.

“As a consequence, it appears that accurate use of spelling, punctuation and grammar is not assessed for many students at these providers, and in some cases its assessment is explicitly not permitted.

“Compliance with this legislation does not in our view justify removing assessment of written proficiency in English for all students,” the OfS stated.

“We would expect providers to assess spelling, punctuation and grammar for most students and courses.”

The regulator also suggested that poor assessment practices “could be an indicator of wider concerns” about institutions, with low standards partly behind the increasing proportion of top class degrees being awarded.

“If the policies and approaches identified in this report are leading to students getting higher marks than they otherwise would, for instance because poor proficiency in written English is not being routinely assessed, then this not only undermines the rigour of assessment processes, but also contributes to unexplained grade inflation,” the review said.

The OfS added that it would “test this hypothesis” through further investigation.

However, critics said the OfS’s review of five case studies was too narrow and that such assessment policies were unlikely to be widespread among the more than 400 institutions registered with the regulator.

Universities UK, which represents more than 140 mainstream higher education institutions, said: “Universities fully recognise the importance of English language proficiency and effective communication skills. Their courses and assessments are designed to assess a wide range of skills and knowledge.

“As the OfS notes, this report refers to a small number of universities. The OfS also recognises that practices will differ across the large and diverse university sector, and there is no evidence in what has been presented to suggest the practices causing concern are the norm.”

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister for England, said: “The government is determined to drive up standards at universities so that every student can benefit from a quality education which leads to good outcomes, and it is right that the Office for Students is putting universities that disregard poor written English on notice.”

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Education

NUT faults sacking of 2,357 teachers by Kaduna govt

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NUT faults sacking of 2,357 teachers by Kaduna govt

The leadership of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) has faulted the sacking of 2,357 teachers by the Kaduna State government allegedly failing a competence test organised by the government.

The National Executive Council (NEC) of the NUT at a meeting held in Abuja on Wednesday, lamented decision of the Kaduna State Government to sack teachers, including its National President, Audu Amba, who was also affected in the mass dismissal.

In a communique released at the end of the meeting, the NUT Deputy National President, Kelvin Nwankwo, said the sack which came following the refusal by Amba and some teachers to write the competency test, was unacceptable to the union.

“It is pertinent to state that the Kaduna State Government’s purported Competency Test was held during the pendency of Suit No NICN/54/2021 before the National Industrial Court, Kaduna Division.

“Furthermore, the purported dismissal of 2,357 teachers was done during the pendency of another Motion on Notice,” the NUT statement said.

“We are teachers and best suited to know the concept of test administration which is a settled and accepted tool for the assessment of the performance of a learner in his or her educational career.

“However, this lofty tool has been maliciously bastardised and abused in Kaduna State. It has been deployed as an instrument of vendetta targeted at labour leaders who dared to perform their statutory and historical role of advocating the advancement of the welfare of teachers.

“The National Executive Council (NEC) of our great Union in good faith had in accordance with international best practices in the teaching profession, advocated that the Kaduna State Government should rather embark on a continuous teacher training programme.

“It is very sad and curious that the dismissal letter relative to the NUT President was in the public domain via the social media even when it has not been served on him.

“The intention clearly is to intimidate the NUT President and embarrass the teachers in Nigeria.

“The union will continue to perform its historical role of defending the rights of teachers in Nigeria and no amount of anti labour policies of the Kaduna State Government and elsewhere can diminish this resolve.

“The NUT family reaffirms its commitment to stand with its revered president, Comrade Audu Titus Amba, and all the teachers in Kaduna State,” the communique said.

 

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Education

FG Continues Talks With ASUU As Strike Enters Fourth Month

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FG Continues Talks With ASUU As Strike Enters Fourth Month

The Federal Government has continued its negotiations with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as the strike by the lecturers enters its fourth month.

A meeting between the striking lecturers and the Professor Nimi Briggs Committee, however, ended without a concrete agreement as members planned to reconvene within 24 hours to consider a draft agreement.

Talks between both parties were held on Monday at the Nigeria University Commission (NUC) in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

A senior member of the union who attended the meeting told The Harmattan News that they reached some agreements with the Federal Government, but members had to break and reconvene within 24 hours to consider the new terms in the draft agreement.

The Federal Government set up the committee led by Professor Briggs on March 7 with a three-month mandate to renegotiate the 2009 ASUU/Federal Government agreement.

The government had tasked the committee to ensure the renegotiation brings an end to the ongoing industrial action by the university lecturers.

Three months after it was inaugurated, the committee met with the lecturers but also failed to reach a final agreement that could end the strike that has crippled academic activities across government-owned universities.

ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike on February 14 over the adoption of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) as the payment system in the university sector.

Members also decried the poor funding of universities, non-payment of salaries and allowances of some of their colleagues, as well as the inability of the government to pay earned academic allowance to lecturers, among other issues.

Since the industrial action began, several negotiations between the union and the government have ended in deadlock – a situation that was condemned by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).

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Talks with FG panel over strike fruitless – SSANU

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Talks with FG panel over strike fruitless – SSANU

The Joint Action Committee of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) has said no tangible achievement was recorded at the Federal Government Renegotiation Panel.

Speaking in an interview with our correspondent on Tuesday, the National Vice-President, SSANU, Dr. Abdussobur Salaam, said the panel met only once with SSANU since it was inaugurated on March 7, 2022.

The Harmattan News had reported that the committee, which was chaired by the Pro-Chancellor of Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Emeritus Prof. Nimi Briggs, was given three months to conclude the renegotiation with the four university unions and send the report to Federal Government.

The committee’s timeline ended on Monday.

It is believed that the committee will submit its report to the Federal Government this week or get an extension.

But Salaam explained that the Briggs committee’s engagements with SSANU had been minimal and the timeline was not being adhered to.

He said, “Within the three months timeline, SSANU has only had one meeting with the Briggs renegotiation team. The meeting was held on Friday, April 8, 2022. Today, being June 7, makes it exactly two months ago.

“At the meeting, nothing tangible was put on the table. No offer was made by the government, particularly on improved conditions of service and welfare of our members.

“The government’s side seems not to be sure of itself and groping in the dark as far as its mandate is concerned.

“As of now, we have no reason to express satisfaction because even the paces of the discussions have been too slow. If it has taken two months after the first meeting with SSANU and no meeting has been called, it gives room to doubt the willingness and capacity of the committee to deliver on its mandate.”

He suggested that the panel be properly empowered to take decisions on behalf of the government.

Salaam said, “The Committee should be properly empowered to take decisions on behalf of the government. To be breathed down upon by government officials as the engagements with the committee suggest is not good for confidence building. They should show that they have a mandate to commit on behalf of the government.

“Similarly, the committee appears not to take cognisance of the timelines in the discharge of its assignment. Whatever the bottlenecks militating against the timelines should be removed.

“If we have only had one meeting within the three months timeline with nothing tangible being put on the table, it leaves much to be desired and it is highly unfortunate.”

When our correspondent contacted Briggs on the telephone for reactions on SSANU’s complaints and other issues, he declined comment, saying, “I don’t react to anything on telephone.”

SSANU’s strike started with a warning strike of two weeks which commenced on March 27, 2021, while the extension of another two weeks commenced on Sunday, April 10, 2022.

The union’s demands include the inconsistent issue of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, unpaid earned allowances, and delay in the renegotiation of FGN, NASU, SSANU agreements, and non-payment of minimum wage arrears.

Others include neglect and poor funding of state universities, non-payment of retirement benefits to outgoing members of the unions, and usurpation of the headship of non-teaching units in clear violation of conditions of service and establishment procedures, among others.

 

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