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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

6.3.7.2: Operation of Discretion: Postgraduate Boards of Examiners

Zone of Discretion

1. The relevant core regulations define the parameters within which a Board of Examiners should consider whether to exercise discretion in the light of academic factors to award a different degree classification to that indicated by the standard application of the core regulations. For Modular Taught Master’s degrees, the ‘zone of discretion’ is defined as being ‘where a student’s arithmetic means falls no more than 2% below a classification boundary, but their dissertation/major project mark falls within the higher classification OR where a student’s dissertation/major project mark falls no more than 2% below a classification boundary, but their arithmetic means falls within the higher classification’. The ‘zone of discretion’ for Modular Taught Master’s degrees is represented by the table below.

Arithmetic Mean

Dissertation Mark

Consider?

Student A

71

68

Yes

Student B

69.4

72

Yes

Student C

76

67

No

Student D

67.9

85

No

Student E

69.5

69

No

2. For Postgraduate Diplomas and Postgraduate Certificates, the ‘zone of discretion’ is defined as being simply ‘where a student’s arithmetic means falls no more than 2% below a classification boundary’, as students completing Postgraduate Diplomas or Certificates will not necessarily have completed a dissertation or major project.

3.There is no requirement that discretion be exercised in respect of such students, only that Boards of Examiners must consider whether discretion should be exercised for any student who falls within this zone. Where students fall outside this zone discretion may only be exercised where a Board of Examiners believe that either serious adverse circumstances, or a combination of serious adverse circumstances and academic factors, justify the use of discretion.

4. Where a Board of Examiners is required to consider exercising discretion in the light of academic factors alone (i.e. not in relation to serious adverse circumstances) to award a different degree classification to that indicated by the standard application of the relevant core regulations, it may only do so for one or more of the following reasons:

Predominance: considering the balance of higher marks for those modules that: are core to a programme; between them demonstrate a breadth of the programme learning outcomes; and take into account student achievement (for example offering specific consideration, for instance, where a high proportion of a module mark may be weighted to group work, and/or the positioning of students module mark(s) relative to each module's standard deviation).

Dissertation/major project/fieldwork: considering a mark within the higher classification for those modules that are synoptic of the programme learning outcomes and may involve the student in independent thought and the personal management of the work's direction. Boards may take into account student achievement making specific consideration to the positioning of the student's module mark relative to the module's standard deviation.

Trajectory: Boards of Examiners may consider trajectory by taking into account student achievement where lesser performance related to a specific program learning outcome is demonstrated by a student through a higher performance at a later stage of study.

5. Reasons why a Board of Examiners might not choose to exercise discretion might include the following (this list is intended to be illustrative, not prescriptive or comprehensive):

a. Predominance: When in the view of the Board of Examiners the student's poor performance in one or more modules significantly impacts on the student's ability to demonstrate one or more of the programmes learning outcomes at a level appropriate to the proposed classification, and that this outcome(s) has not been demonstrated by higher performance later in the programme.

b. Dissertation/major project/fieldwork: When the considered module's mean is higher than other modules within the programme so significantly contributing towards the better performance. So for example, the BoE may decide not to apply discretion despite the mark being in a higher classification where the student's rank in the cohort is not significantly higher for the dissertation (or other considered) module than their overall cohort rank based on their arithmetic mean.

c. Trajectory: When later modules disproportionately contribute to a higher arithmetic mean and in the view of the Board of Examiners these modules do not provide significant coverage of the overall programmes learning outcomes.