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Government announces plan to tackle 'grade inflation' at UK universities

Ministers fear institutions are awarding too many first-class degrees

Adam Forrest
Monday 22 October 2018 10:28 BST
More than a quarter of students now graduate with first-class degrees
More than a quarter of students now graduate with first-class degrees (PA)

The government has announced new measures to crack down on “grade inflation” at UK universities to protect the value of a degree.

There has been a rapid increase in first-class degrees among graduating students in recent years, and ministers fear progressively higher grading is undermining the worth of top qualifications.

Just over a quarter – 26 percent – of students are now graduating with a first-class degree, up from 18 percent in 2012-2013, according to the Higher Education Stats Authority.

Universities minister Sam Gyimah said he hoped new criteria would prevent an excessive numbers of firsts and 2:1s.

The approach each institution takes to grading will now be one of the criteria they are ranked on as part of a new rating system.

“The value of those degrees is threatened by grade inflation and that is a problem for students, employers and the universities themselves,” said the minister.

“These new measures will look at how we can protect our globally recognised higher education system by discouraging universities from undermining the reverence a degree qualification from the UK commands,” Mr Gyimah added.

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Grade inflation will be one of the criteria that universities are measured on in the newly introduced Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

The TEF rates universities as gold, silver or bronze by assessing multiple different factors of teaching and university life including student experience, teaching quality and whether courses are difficult enough.

The TEF rankings were first introduced in June 2017.

The government is piloting a subject specific version of the rating, the Department for Education said.

TEF panellists are responsible for awarding the rating, and the new subject level ratings will take into account student feedback, drop-out rates and graduation outcomes.

The Russell Group – the association of 24 top UK universities – has previously warned against presumptions about the cause of the increase in first-class degrees.

Sarah Stevens, head of policy, has said we should be wary of “simplistic assessments that make easy assumptions about cause and effect” when it comes to grade inflation.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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