Office For Students' Report Highlights Grade Inflation At UK Universities
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Office For Students' Report Highlights Grade Inflation At UK Universities

Ella Kipling May 19, 2022

On 12 May, the Office for Students (the OfS) released figures which show that more than half of first class degrees awarded to students in 2020-21 cannot be explained when compared to students’ attainment ten years ago.

Titled ‘Analysis of degree classifications over time: changes in graduate attainment from 2010-11 and 2020-21′, the report analyses degrees awarded to students in these years. Ten years ago 15.7% of students received a first class degree, compared to 37.9% in 2020-21. The analysis includes degrees awarded by 143 universities, colleges, and other higher education providers.

The report also shows that nearly 60% of first class degrees are unexplained. The OfS took into account a variety of observable factors such as students’ prior entry qualifications and their background characteristics. The term unexplained here means that changes in attainment since 2010-11 cannot statistically be accounted for by changes in the characteristics of the graduating cohort in terms of the explanatory variables.

University students graduating at Bath Abbey.

Damaging to reputation

Susan Lapworth, interim chief executive at the OfS, said that the report demonstrates the scale of increases in degree classifications in UK universities. Lapworth deemed unmerited grade inflation as bad for students, graduates, and employers. She also argued that it damages the reputation of English Higher Education. 

‘We know that universities and colleges used ‘no detriment’ policies to respond to the exceptional set of circumstances caused by the pandemic,’ she said. ‘But grade inflation has been a real credibility issue for the sector for some time and the pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to allow a decade of unexplained grade inflation to be baked into the system.’

The report does state that there are a variety of reasons that could lead to an increase in higher grades being awarded, such as improved teaching and learning. However, the continued rise in unexplained firsts ‘continues to pose regulatory concerns for the OfS.’ 

Twitter reactions

Following the publication of the report, students and graduates across the country have taken to Twitter to discuss what this means. One graduate shared her experience, and tweeted:

‘I failed 2/3 AS levels in 2010 before failing a level 3 course in 2011. In 2019, I ranked in the top 25 PhD applicants to Cambridge that yr. I changed. Change is good. The classism underpinning concerns about grade inflation is appalling. We need new ways of discussing this.’

Meanwhile, someone else wrote: ‘38% of graduates got a 1st class degree last year! When I got a 1st in Geophysics in 1992, it was 6%. I worked really hard and felt so proud, these days getting a 1st is met with a shrug. Grade inflation is a scandal, universities need holding to account.’

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Ella Kipling is an Entertainment and News Writer at GRV Media. She regularly writes a mixture of news and features for HITC and has been part of the team since 2020. After graduating from the University of Birmingham with a BA (Hons) in English Literature, Ella is currently studying for an MA in Magazine Journalism at City University. She has a keen interest in current affairs and can usually be found reading the news, with her nose in a book (and updating her Goodreads), talking about women’s rights, or listening to Showtunes.