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The Logic Behind Barring August 26, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Education, Student Development, Teaching.

The question I spent two and a half hours struggling with last evening (which I did the previous trimester as well) was this – should I bar seven students who attended between 35-45% of my classes with between 0-5 out of 20 coursework marks?

Barring is a mechanic my university has to prevent students with poor attendance or performance from sitting from final examinations, thus failing them before they even sit for it. They are not assigned the “F” grade, but a grade which gives the equivalent 0 in grade point calculation. The guideline cut off point for barring is usually 50% attendance and 30% coursework marks.

Why do we practice barring?

To be frank, it is perhaps best to explain a possibly unknown benefit of barring on the lecturer’s part. Students who are barred are not counted towards the failure rate of the subject, thus improving the distribution of your marks (and thus your class performance). Lecturers are of course reminded never to bar based on this reason, but it is still an obvious and immediate benefit of barring to the lecturer. Lecturers in my university do not have to adhere to a normal distribution when grading, but they are expected to explain poor student performance, and describe remedial plans.

In reality, most lecturers wave the barring stick as a means to get poor attendance or performance students to withdraw from the course before final examinations. “You should withdraw from the subject before I bar you,” being the operative warning. If withdrawn, the student will not get a fail-equivalent grade. The subject will simply not count in their grade point calculation.

Barring Benefits Whom?

On the student side, there does not seem to be any benefit of barring itself. One is basically stripped of the right to even try. Even if the lecturer is VERY certain that the student will not be able to pass the subject, I can think of no reason (other than the benefit to the lecturer) not to just let him fail the subject.

On the other hand, when barring is used by the lecturer to force students to withdraw the subject, there is a benefit for the student. Not failing with either an ‘F’ or the bar grade will ensure that the students do not suffer a grade point drop due to the subject. This will prevent them from entering a probation state, which limits the number of subjects they can take, and of course, eventually lead them to termination. It also makes them look bad to sponsors, the immigration department and so on. To make sure this works of course, the lecturer has to actually bar students who do not withdraw, otherwise it would be an empty threat.

So… in my humble opinion, barring itself only benefits the lecturer. Barring to force withdrawals allows the lecturer to force the student to take the safe road.

Not Barring…

Not barring however, teaches the greatest lesson of all – it allows the student to make his/her own decisions, and suffer his/her own consequences. And isn’t that one of the most important lessons a university must teach its students? Isn’t the ivory tower all about growing up and learning from your own experiences and mistakes?

There is a third perspective on this, which is the university perspective. A university which saves lazy students from getting themselves terminated stands to benefit from continued candidature and fees in the long run. However, neither the university nor my department has ever encouraged barring. In fact our Vice President Academic argues vehement in Senate to lower the guidelines for barring, and to discourage lecturers from barring.

So why bar, at all?

Looks like this is a question I’ll keep struggling with from trimester to trimester.


There is one way I WILL use barring however. It is an excellent way to summon constantly missing students with poor performance to meet me. “Meet me by this week or you will be barred due to your attendance and poor performance.” It is a good way to discuss the the withdrawal option to save themselves a fail. “Based on your current performance, I seriously doubt I can pass you unless the moon turns pink for three nights in a row. (Or you work very, VERY, VERY hard.)” The final decision however, I feel should always be in the student’s hands.

Of course, for the threat of barred-unless-you-meet-me to work, I would have to actually bar those who do not meet me. Haven’t had the need to do that though.



1. Dominic Low - August 26, 2010

I think barring needs to happen when it needs to happen. At least to force people to withdraw. Or they might just end up like me. You know, terminated.

Go to class and do your coursework people.

2. Wilz - August 26, 2010

Some people needs to get terminated before they learn anything. Possibly from two or three universities.

3. Anonymous - September 27, 2010

I think you brought up some really good points there wilz. A university isn’t a university if not even half of what an undergraduate deduce in his/her time there stems from outside the classroom. Some of the most invaluable lessons I’ve learnt during uni life, happen to take place out of the lecture arena. For example, for a semester I spent a tad more time on the australasian debates, got too engrossed with it and in turn neglected class attendance for that semester ending up with very low marks (barely enough to make it through to sit for finals)and eventually sat for finals and failed it with such low attendance (missing 15% of coursework). Not that australasians or in fact any other curricular activities are evil, the point in case here is that i lacked balance in my life, shit is going to hit the fan one way or another. When i went into the re-sit paper hall, only to find out that the majority of the students there are either mentally challenged/incapacitated or the usual low lifer’s, I vowed never to repeat the same mistake again(and never did once fail another paper). Of course then the next big challenge would be to restore hope in students whom i have bluntly (for the lack of a better word)addressed as the low-lifer’s. In general i would say without the barring system, it would be quite chaotic for both lecturers and students alike. But in the long run it would breed a better stock of graduates who are capable of making matured decisions themselves.

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