First Class

‘It makes a mockery of the whole university!’ said Tam Clark, the Senior Lecturer. He was a bit Old Labour, so this kind of reaction wasn’t unexpected.

‘Oh, no,’ said Jeannie McKay, one of the bright, younger lecturers, ‘it’s an innovative approach that engages the degree-awarding process with the discourse of modern culture.’

‘Say all that again in English.’ said Tam

‘Well, ha, ha, I knew I could trust you all to discuss this in a lively and passionate manner!’ broke in Aberfeldy, our Head of Faculty. ‘But you must let me point out, Tam, that while we rightly regard our First Class Honours students as our best and brightest, we must recognise that there are good years and bad years…’

‘Aye, and this is a bad year,’ said Tam.

‘…yet every year, without fail, two of our students are awarded First Class Honours. There is no level playing field across the years. Therefore this innovation is just as valid, will attract new students and media publicity and be a lot of fun, too!’

We voted. There wasn’t really any point. The commercial and PR departments had the University by the throat and were determined to push the new scheme through, for the very reasons Aberfeldy had suggested. But there was only a narrow majority in favour.

‘Excellent, excellent!’ said Aberfeldy, cupping his hands in triumph. ‘And the splendid news is that only two such graduations will take place before that of our own faculty! All the teething troubles will have been eliminated and we, our department and our graduands, will shine!’

In late June, a week before the formal graduations, we convened in the town’s ice rink. The main spectator gallery was restricted to academic staff, administrators and relatives but the rest of the place was packed, every member of the audience equipped with a small keypad.

The first skater emerged; Sam Ryan, a slender, elegant American girl and brilliant scholar. Under the old system she probably would have been guaranteed a First. Her routine was one of the best, too, intricate and with a couple of remarkable spins.

Fifteen skating graduands later, the last to go collided with the perimeter wall and was carried off. The graduands were lined up on the ice and the audience voted. The announcer called out the losing names one by one and each graduand skated disconsolately off. Then they were down to the last three. ‘And a First Class Honours degree goes to SAM RYAN!’

Sam punched the air and screamed, and when she settled down, there was a hushed pause before the second First was read out – Jackson Ohari, another fine student, happily. The third figure on the ice skated tearfully off.

‘What splendid publicity!’ said Aberfeldy to me on our way out, ‘only two in A&E and next year we’re hoping it will be televised!’

‘This is the future of Higher Education!’ beamed Jeannie Mackay.

I think Tam was already in the bar.



David McVey lectures in Communication at New College Lanarkshire. He has published over 120 short stories and a great deal of non-fiction that focuses on history and the outdoors. He enjoys hillwalking, visiting historic sites, reading, watching telly, and supporting his home-town football team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy FC.