Universities must end the steep-rise of ‘unjustifiable’ first class degrees to maintain the UK university sector’s world class reputation, Education Secretary Damian Hinds has said this week (24 March).
In the second in a series of interventions across higher education, Mr Hinds wants action taken across the sector to put a stop to artificial grade inflation starting from the next academic year – in a bid to reset the proportion of firsts and 2:1s awarded by universities.
Analysis published by the Office for Students (OfS) in December 2018 showed that 27% of students obtained a first-class honours degree in 2016/17, up from 16% in 2010/11. Of all university students, 78% now obtain an upper degree (first or 2:1), up from 67% in 2010/11. Analysis of these figures concluded that the scale of this rise cannot be attributed to the rise in pupils’ prior attainment or changes in student demographics alone.
The OfS data also revealed that 50.1% of students at the University of Surrey were awarded a first class degree in 2016-17, while at the University of Huddersfield 37.9% of students were awarded a first class degree in 2016-17.
Mr Hinds has today announced a clear expectation that the OfS should directly challenge institutions where they find clear evidence of artificial grade inflation occurring.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:
Our universities are world-class and world leading, with four ranked among the top ten in the world, and attracting thousands of international students. At the heart of that global reputation is a trust in the quality and high standards of the education provided.
Unjustifiable, artificial grade inflation threatens that. It cannot be right that students in one year are awarded higher grades for the same level of achievement than those in previous years. We owe it to the hardworking students who have earned those top grades to stamp out this unfair practice.
I expect the Office for Students – when they have their full range of powers – to challenge those institutions that record an unjustifiable rise in the proportion of top degrees being awarded.
The OfS’ statutory powers are on course to be strengthened through new regulations due to be laid in Parliament later this year, which once agreed allow the OfS to levy fines of up to £500,000 or two per cent of a university’s income (whichever is higher).