Universities from across the UK have agreed new principles to tackle grade inflation, reconfirming the sector’s strong collective commitment to protect the value of qualifications.
This fresh commitment, published 21st July 2020 by Universities UK and GuildHE on behalf of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA), outlines six new guiding principles as well as recommendations for universities when deciding the final degree classifications awarded to students.
These principles will be added to the UKSCQA statement of intent, which outlines specific commitments universities have made to ensure transparency, fairness and reliability in the way they award degrees.
Alongside six new principles which cover the importance of providing clear learning outcomes, regular reviews, student engagement and transparency in algorithm design*, the report includes examples of recommended good practice in the following areas:
- Discounting marks – academic experimentation and risk taking by students are important elements to course design and learning, but there should not be the option of discounting core or final year modules. Clear instructions on how discounting applies to the final award and progression through their degree must be provided to students.
- Border-line classifications – there should be a maximum zone of consideration of two percentage points from the grade boundary. Rounding, if used, should occur only once, and at the final stage. Only one algorithm should be used to determine degree classifications and this should be clearly stated to students at the beginning of their studies.
- Weighting given to different years within degrees – divergence from the four outlined models (p6; principles) should be limited.
Professor Andrew Wathey, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Northumbria at Newcastle and Chair of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment, said: “These principles demonstrate consistency and transparency in the way that final degree classifications are awarded in UK universities. Universities are committed to taking visible action to address the issue of grade inflation.”
“It is more important than ever that the public has full confidence in the value of a UK university degree and that degree classifications are meaningful for employers and students.”
Professor Debra Humphris, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton and Chair of UUK’s Student Policy Network, said: “The UK’s universities are world-leading and our students are highly motivated and eager to learn. In these challenging times they have proven that they are dedicated and adaptable.
“It is vital that we protect the value of UK degrees and these principles are another important step in ensuring that students can continue to take pride in the qualifications they work so hard to achieve.”
Dr David Llewellyn, Chair of GuildHE and Vice Chancellor Harper Adams University said: “UK higher education has a reputation for excellence. Universities and colleges are committed to maintaining the value of UK degrees and robustly protecting academic standards. Our joint report, setting out principles for degree algorithms, is an important addition to the work that the sector has been doing on protecting academic standards, including degree outcomes statements, degree classification descriptors and work to strengthen the external examiner system.”
* Degree algorithms are the method through which a classification is calculated. Students will always need to accumulate the requisite credits to progress and receive their degree award, and all their marks will feature on their academic transcript, regardless of how the marks are used for classification. Students must meet their learning outcomes.
1. This publication follows the publication of degree classification descriptors as sector reference points and guidance on producing degree outcomes statements, both published in October. A review of action taken on the statement of intent will be taken in the autumn.
2. The exceptional circumstances of 2019/20 have seen some universities adopt emergency regulations relating to degree algorithms to ensure fairness for students completing their studies this year in difficult circumstances. The principles published today are an indication of what will inform future practice.
3. Universities UK is the collective voice of 137 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution.
4. GuildHE is an officially recognised representative body for UK Higher Education. Our 52 members include universities, university colleges, further education colleges and specialist institutions from both the traditional and private sectors. Visit: www.guildhe.ac.uk
5. UKSCQA provides sector-led oversight of higher education quality assessment arrangements that continue to be shared across the UK. The committee has members drawn from regulated providers in England and Wales, publicly-funded universities and colleges in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and providers currently designated for student support by the Secretary of State in England. Student interests are represented by both the National Union of Students and individual student members. Membership is also drawn from the four UK higher education funding/regulatory bodies, sector bodies and regulatory partners.