London, Apr 30: A major exam board has become the first in Britain to outsource marking to India as part of a cost-cutting project aimed at speeding up the assessment process.
City & Guilds has been sending off thousands of papers to be marked by an education firm based in Bangalore as part of a pilot scheme, 'The Daily Telegraph' reported.
It had started outsourcing marking to MeritTrac as part of the scheme launched 18 months ago.
"We have been undertaking a comprehensive pilot to meet market demand for a 20-day turnaround for marking on-demand exams. We have made a substantial investment in a more flexible way of marking, which we are piloting for tests with clearly defined marking schemes for right and wrong answers.
This pilot accounts for 2.8 per cent of exams marked in the past year," the board said in a statement.
"Highly-experienced, subject-matter experts continuously monitor and uphold our standards. All of our markers, no matter where they are based, undergo the same rigorous, extensive selection and training processes - in fact they are trained face-to-face by our chief examiners, alongside our senior exam team," it added.
The deal involves functional skills exams, which can be taken at any time of the year requiring access to a large team of established markers who could quickly turn papers around en masse.
Functional skills exams are taken in schools, colleges and work-based training centres and were developed in response to employers' concerns over the practical application of basic skills.
Other exam boards in the UK have previously outsourced data entry to firms based overseas but experts believe this may be the first deal of its kind to involve marking.
However, not all academics are convinced about the merits of outsourcing the marking process.
"The idea of putting call centres in India was that you had a very highly-educated workforce who can get the job done more efficiently and cheaper than in this country. But you try ringing BT (British Telecom) and it is incredibly hard to get any kind of technical advice out of them," Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University said.
"I have no doubt about the qualifications of the Indian people involved, but what experience do they have of the courses that are being delivered in this country," he said.