December 2018

STATEMENT: Grade inflation news article

Read time: approx 1 mins

You may have seen recent news articles in the national press regarding a so-called “unexplained” upsurge in the number of first and upper second class degrees being awarded at universities UK-wide. Within this, University College Birmingham was named as one of the universities with the biggest increase in the last six years.

There are two points we feel need to be raised here.

Firstly, it is important to note that the Office for Students (OfS) figures cited in the story only take into consideration last year’s full-time England domiciled students graduating from UCB, around 570. Our overall graduating cohort was nearly double that, over 1,100.

Taking into consideration our full cohort of graduates, the number of first and upper second class degrees awarded by UCB has increased by 28 percent since 2010/11, not 36.6 percent as cited in the article. This has been a gradual increase in ‘good’ degree classifications as shown in the table below. It is also worth noting that we have remained below the national average consistently throughout this period.

Secondly, yes, the number of ‘good degrees’ awarded has gone up, but this is not “unexplained”. This is categorically down to the tireless work we have been doing over the past six years to support our students to achieve their absolute potential.

Many of our students are from widening participation groups in line with our commitment to opening up opportunities for school and college leavers from all backgrounds. Prior to 2011, we put in place a strategic plan to further improve support for students, enhancing teaching and learning in both academic and vocational subjects.

We have developed a wide range of online resources to enable students to track their progress against their peers and embedded academic skills sessions in the classroom to support students with written assessments. We now use data to identify students at risk of dropping out of their course, not completing or attaining below their potential and have designated mentors within each academic school, a support system that has had a huge impact on student outcomes; including classifications.

We included a summary of this detail around student support within our Teaching Excellence Framework submission and were awarded a Silver award in 2017.

Crucially, our support system is designed to ensure students not only stay at UCB and complete their course with a good degree, but leave with the essential skills and attributes they need to gain employment and flourish within their chosen careers.

It is worth noting that, previously, external examiners commented that we were not utilising the full range of marks available (particularly at the top end), an area which we addressed where the student work clearly merited this.

In addition, they praised our thorough moderation process, overall agreeing with grades awarded. They also highlighted that courses offer strong sector relevancy and develop many student transferable skills, which help with employment.

We strongly feel that the news story that has been circulating is not reflective of the work we continue to do to ensure students succeed and would like to reassure students that their grades are testament to their commitment and hard work. 

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