Grade inflation means too many Firsts being awarded, finds OfS report

Students today are receiving higher marks than ever before according to a report published last month by the Office for Students. The study found that the percentage of students receiving first-class honours has increased from 16% in the 2010-11 academic year to 27% in 2016-17.

Better Marks for Everyone

More than half of the universities in England are awarding marks far higher than their 2010 averages.

Another report by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment shows that these increases in grading don’t have any particular reason and can’t be explained by tougher entry criteria or increased investment in teaching and learning resources.

“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”.

Professor Debra Humphris, Chair of UUK’s Student Policy Network

Good Marks Is Good News, Right?

According to the UKSCQA, grade inflation leads to a loss in public confidence in the results students receive. That leads to a devaluation of their degree. The more we collectively get the highest marks, the less they mean to future employers.

“[T]here is a clear need for the higher education sector to take action to grip the issue of grade inflation, and to demonstrate its ability to maintain the value of a UK qualification”.

Professor Andrew Wathey, Chair of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment

What Do We Do Now?

The UKSCQA launched a UK-wide consultation “on proposed changes to the degree classification system in the UK designed to ensure transparent, consistent and fair academic standards”. The consultations are over now and a full report is expected sometime in April.

The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework, which ranks universities according to multiple criteria, will start taking grade inflation into account when giving out gold, silver or bronze rankings.

What universities lack is transparency in the way the award marks and a common standard that all universities should adhere to. Making the scoring system publicly available and easy to understand could, in theory, help create a new degree classification system that would keep the value of those degrees intact.

Nicu Calcea. Eastern European. Gypsy Punk fan. Not an alcoholic yet. Data Editor at London Student.

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