Whilst I’ve not worked in the HE sector for about four years now, I still like to keep an eye on what’s going on. And I see the grade inflation debate is continuing.
UK universities to hold inquiry into degree awards policies
The report led by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education concludes that while it is difficult to pinpoint the causes, perceptions of grade inflation could erode the usefulness of honours degree classes and undermine confidence in academic standards.
Perhaps the lecturers and students are just getting cleverer?
The report found that improvements in student performance, better teaching and increased efficiency “only explain a certain proportion of the uplift” in degree classes.
I wonder what could be causing this, then.
Public attitudes, including employers’ perceptions that first and 2:1 degrees are “good” degrees, may also act as incentives. Noting that institutions with a high proportion of upper degrees receive a boost in some league table, the report said: “Where competition to attract students is high, institutions have an incentive to perform well in league tables.”
When I was a university Deputy Registrar, I was involved in Professor Bob Burgess’s nationwide HEAR implementation group, established, in part, to tackle this 2:1 issue.
HEAR: Higher Education Achievement Report
The Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) is designed to encourage a more sophisticated approach to recording student achievement, which acknowledges fully the range of opportunities that higher education institutions in the UK offer to their students. The HEAR was launched in 2008 (with 18 institutions) following recommendations that universities needed to be able to provide a more comprehensive record of student achievement.
Is that still a thing? (I note the © notice in their website footer is now three years out-of-date.) It’s a shame if it’s fallen away somewhat, as some of us thought it might, as it had some lofty aims. I was always frustrated, though, that it fell short of pushing for a replacement to the classification system that it deemed to be “no longer fit for purpose”.
Beyond the honours degree classification: Burgess Group Final Report October 2007 (pdf)
The diagnosis presented by the Scoping Group was simple – and one with which we swiftly concurred – the UK honours degree is a robust and highly-valued qualification but the honours degree classification system is no longer fit for purpose. It cannot describe, and therefore does not do full justice to, the range of knowledge, skills, experience and attributes of a graduate in the 21st century. Exploring how to reform or replace the classification system has not been easy. We have conducted extensive work to develop a practical set of proposals upon which we are all agreed.
One method I use to try to keep up-to-date with HE politics is to read Wonkhe, a website for “higher education wonks: those who work in and around universities and anyone interested and engaged in higher education policy, people and politics.”
This was their take on the HEAR, from 2007.
Degree classifications: just too good to lose
The report basically accepts that changing the traditional degree classification system is just too darn difficult and that we can only get round it by adding a new and improved transcript (with a new name – HEAR) to provide lots of extra info. […] Not the finest example of progressive thinking from UK universities. What proportion of students have to get a 2:1 before we change the system? Will anyone go it alone?
They have quite a few articles on grade inflation for me to catch up with; this debate has been churned over for a while now.
Bang! – grade inflation in TEF3 (June 2018)
Grade inflation: a clear and present danger (May 2018)
Taking on grade inflation in UK higher education (January 2018)
Are today’s degrees really first class? (January 2018)
‘Too many Firsts’ mean another discussion of GPA (October 2017)
Below standard: grade inflation in TEF (September 2017)
Another false dawn for Grade Point Averages? (June 2016)
REF results marred by fears over grade inflation (December 2014)