Action sought on degree standards Better quality of degrees sought

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The Independent Online
An urgent review of the classifying of degrees is likely to be recommended next month as a result of concern that standards are falling.

The Higher Education Quality Council is publishing a report on standards and will make recommendations to individual universities, subject associations and the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals.

According to Roger Brown, the council's chief executive, its work over the past couple of years has revealed doubts about degree classification practices. "We are going to suggest we look at whether the honours classification system is helpful or if we would be better off with a basic threshold system," he said.

A threshold system would establish minimum standards. Those who reached the standard would get a degree; others would not.

"At the moment all the focus is on what class of degree a student gets, whereas what we should be looking at is what a student does in order to achieve a satisfactory performance," Mr Brown added.

The council has been concerned about the lack of consistency in degree classifications. Received wisdom has it that a first in one institution is equal to a first at another. But increasing numbers of people question that view. Some also wonder why degree results are improving each year.

In the next few weeks the council will also publish a report commissioned from Professor Keith Chapman, of Aberdeen University, on whether universities have been engaging in "grade inflation". His survey of more than 250,000 graduates has found that firsts and upper seconds are much more common than they were.