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safeguarding standards and improving the quality of UK higher education

Student improvement or grade inflation?

Date 12/01/2018

The Higher Education Statistics Agency has released data on student enrolments and qualifications for 2016-17.

The data shows that last year 26 per cent of students gained a first class degree, a rise of two per cent from the previous year, and up from 18 per cent in 2012-13.

QAA has begun work with Universities UK and GuildHE to address the issue of UK degree classifications, including the steady rise in the number of firsts.

We will be looking at whether these rises can be attributed to improvements in ability and performance, or whether grade inflation is also a factor.

Currently, universities and colleges use a range of marks achieved by students to determine the final grade of degree. Due to the autonomous nature of UK universities, these can vary between providers and subjects.

QAA already publishes characteristics statements on what a foundation degree, a master’s degree and so on should look like. These statements describe the distinctive features of the different levels of higher education qualifications on offer, and support universities and colleges in designing new qualifications (including teaching, learning and assessment). Characteristics statements provide a thread of continuity across a diverse sector.

We now want to work with higher education providers across the UK to clearly identify what a first class degree, a 2.1 and so on should look like, identifying the characteristics of each grade as a move towards greater consistency.