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University Alliance comments on proposals to tackle grade inflation

University Alliance has today commented on recommendations [LINK] to tackle perceptions of grade inflation and build public confidence in students’ final results.

The joint-report by Universities UK (UUK), GuildHE and QAA found the number of UK graduates receiving at least a 2:1 has risen by 55%, at an average rate of 5% annually since 2010/11 – with the proportion of classified upper degrees increasing from 61% to 75% and first class honours doubling from 13% to 26%.

Today’s report points to a wide range of factors behind the national doubling in the proportion of firsts and upper second degrees since 2010/11 – but concluded there remained significant ‘unexplained’ drivers behind the uplift.

The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment is now consulting on proposals that universities should sign-up to a sector-wide statement of intent and specific actions to protect the value of qualifications.

These include

  • reviewing and publishing evidence on their degree outcomes at the institutional level – the skills and knowledge demonstrated by graduates at every grade with external assurance of the data.
  • agreeing common criteria, to be used by all universities, to describe the quality of work required for each degree classification.
  • publishing and explaining scoring systems and processes that universities follow to determine a student’s final degree classification in an accessible format, including why any practice differs from accepted norms.

 

Professor Debra Humphris, University Alliance Director; Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton; and Chair of UUK’s Student Policy Network, said:

“We have some of the best teaching in the world and highly motivated students who are eager to learn, but we cannot ignore the legitimate concerns about grade inflation.

“It is essential that the public has full confidence in the value of a degree, and that degree classifications are meaningful for employers and students.

“We want to see greater levels of transparency and consistency in academic standards. This report and the upcoming UK-wide consultation will help universities consider how they can best protect the value of qualifications over time.

 

A University Alliance spokesperson said: 

“This is a wake-up call.

“The drivers of grade classifications are complex, with a wide mix of internal and external factors impacting on degree outcomes.

“It’s clear, however, university leaderships cannot put the rise in upper degrees by solely down to rising standards. No one can ignore the growing evidence of ‘unexplained’ increases beyond student attainment, characteristics or investment in academic facilities and services.

“It’s plain that higher education must get its house in order. Universities may be autonomous, independent institutions – but there’s no doubt, ministers will keep up the pressure by forcing the regulator to intervene much more directly.

“These recommendations are a solid starting point. We’ll be contributing fully to the national consultation, working closely with University Alliance’s members.”