Grade Inflation at UK Universities – Update

November 30th, 2018

inflation

According to official figures released earlier this year, British universities have been awarding higher-class degrees at an unprecedented rate over the past decade, with at least one university issuing five times as many first-class degrees last year as it did a decade before. In other words, degrees are being “marked up”, meaning students are leaving with a higher grade than a comparable student in previous years.

According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, more than a quarter of graduates (26%) were awarded a first-class degree in 2017, which was up from 18% in 2012-13.

Examples of Grade Inflation:

At the University of Wolverhampton, in 2006-2007 academic year, 175 students (5% of the total) were awarded first-class degrees. In 2016-2017, 973 students (28% of the total) were awarded first-class degrees.

In contrast, Warwick University’s proportion of first-class degrees rose from 22% in 2006-2007 to 27% a decade later and the proportion of second-class division 1s remained the same at 54%. But at Surrey University the number of first-class degrees rose to 41% of its graduates in 2017. At Oxford it rose to 33% and at Cambridge to 32% in 2017.

What may be the cause of this grade inflation?

Many within higher education point to public attitudes, including employers’ perceptions that first and second-class division 1 degrees are viewed as “good” (or preferred) degrees. They also point at students who want value for the financial investment made in their education and expect a higher degree classification from their universities for the tuition fees paid. Another factor to consider is the competition between universities in attracting and retaining students that is seen as an incentive.

What’s next?

The government has announced that it will penalize universities found to have engaged in grade inflation.

The Teaching Excellent and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) is the body that rates universities annually. TEC uses a number of criterion including student experience and teaching quality for its assessment of universities.

TEF, which is composed of academics, students and higher education experts who assess higher education providers for the government’s university ratings system, will review the percentage of first-class and second-class division 1 degrees by each institution to determine any grade inflation. If assessments are judged excessive, the university could be downgraded. For example, a university with a gold rating, may be downgraded to silver rating.

The government has indicated that it has extended the TEF rating system to also include subject level. This means that individual subject will be rated gold, silver or bronze.
To start, 50 institutions will be measured in a series of pilots, before the plan is formally included to determine university ratings in the summer of 2020.

Sources:

The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/oct/22/uk-universities-face-grade-inflation-crackdown

The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/nov/28/uk-universities-hold-inquiry-into-degree-awards-policies

The Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/university-grade-inflation-uk-first-class-degrees-second-thirds-government-a8594981.html

BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-45935193

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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