Education Correspondent Duncan Kenyon investigates the allegations of grade inflation at universities across the country
Researchers are disputing that the rise in degree grades achieved is due to grade inflation.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency has revealed that 19 per cent of students achieved a first last year, with 51 per cent getting 2:1s, 25 per cent achieving a 2:2 and 5 per cent a third. This is up from the 11 per cent who achieved a first in 2004/05. However this is a long term trend, as the most common grade in the early 1980s was a 2:2, when 60 per cent of students achieved this grade.
Professor Alan Smith from the Centre of Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckinghamshire has expressed several ideas as to why grades are increasing. His first explanation is that universities are under pressure to perform better in league tables and thus bumping up grades.
A Birmingham lecturer disclosed that senior management were told to increase the number of people achieving first and 2:1 grades. He also told the BBC that his managers also told him to make courses easier so abroad students performed better in them, increasing the average. This makes their grades look better relatively in league tables. Andrew, from Salisbury, told the BBC that he must pass as many students as possible to bump grades up.
It has been found that the top universities are 8% more likely to be lenient with university grades than other universities.
Another explanation Professor Smith gives for the rise in grades is that students are working harder for them. Currently, at least 3 out of 4 of the UK’s 100 top graduate schemes require a minimum of a 2:1 grade at degree. This encourages people to work harder for their grades. One lecturer from Cambridge says that students now need higher grades at university. A first is not worth now what it was 30 years before, which encourages more people to strive for one.
However, this has been disputed by the Lancaster University Management School. A study looking at Higher Education grades from 2005-2012 has shown a link between rising ‘A’ Level grades and rising degree grades. The study shows that people are generally achieving one grade higher at ‘A’ Level than before, so they are more prepared to take on university study.
The study has not yet garnered much support, possibly because it is so new. Regardless of the explanation, there are more people achieving higher grades at university. There are also more people attending university. The culmination of these has lead to an increase in high grade graduates on the job market.