Improved Degree Performance Not Due To Grade Inflation, Says Lancaster University: Figures released last week showed that more than 70% achieved higher than a 2:2 last year – although Lancaster University has said this is due to students being better prepared and with better A-Levels, as opposed to grade inflation. According to the data released last week, only 25% of students in UK universities were awarded 2:2s in 2012-13.
The research carried out by economists at Lancaster University Management School suggests that the increasing quality of undergraduate degrees is a reflection on the improvements made at attainment in Further Education – as shown by improving A-level grades. The research considered the changes in degree grades from 2005-2012.
Although researcher Kwok Tong Soo said there was no evidence of universities contributing to grade inflation, there were signs of ‘leniency’ among the very top universities which, even after the differences in A-level grades had been taken in to account, were 8% more likely to award higher degrees.
Still, the Lancaster research has met with disagreement from some quarters, with Professor Alan Smithers, director for the Centre for Education and Employment Research located at the University of Buckingham, suggesting that universities are under pressure to compete in league tables and that awarding higher degree grades are a way of achieving this. He also noted that the current economy and the need to achieve higher standards in order to secure a future job may be motivating students to work harder and achieve higher than a 2:2 grade.
In 2004-05, only 11% of undergraduate students achieved a first class degree – in 2012-13 this had almost doubled to around 1 in 5 (19%). Further back, in the early 1990s, less than one in ten students achieved a first class grade (8%). This has led to concerns about the increasing difficulty for employers in distinguishing between candidates when so many grades are clustered at the upper end of the spectrum. As of January 2014, around three-quarters of the UK’s top 100 graduate employers use a 2:1 degree as the cut off for recruiting university leavers – in 2012-13 that would still mean that over 70% of graduates would be eligible on that basis.
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