Degrees now easier, claim top economists

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Standards have fallen at British universities with the best degrees now easier to achieve than 20 years ago.

However, since a dramatic slump in the mid 1980s, standards have remained roughly constant, according to research presented yesterday at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference.

Twenty years ago only a third of all degrees were awarded first or upper second class. Now more than half achieve this standard. Critics claim that universities have allowed standards to slip in order to increase their student numbers and allow less able undergraduates to succeed.

Although in the United States "grade inflation" has been well documented, until now there has been little hard evidence of it in the UK.

However, the research by Professors Geraint Johnes and Bob McNabb, economists at Lancaster and Cardiff universities, found that "grade inflation" was responsible for a dramatic fall in academic standards at British universities between 1984 and 1988.

In the last decade the improvement in degree results has been broadly in line with the rise in the quality of students, judged by their A-level results.