Rather than cause for celebration, the seemingly inexorable increase in graduate performance is a significant problem for a nation that sees intellect and innovation as the means by which it forges future economic success.
Universities are always keen to point out the quality control procedures that are in place and one which we hear most about is the role of the external examiner, who is appointed to bring scrutiny from outwith an institution. But time pressure means that this scrutiny invariably involves sampling examination material.
Disagreement with any significantly inflated marking by internal examiners brings a requirement for complete assessment of all students, for which there is no time and for which remuneration is at pittance level. So the quality control is ritualistic rather than effective.
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Besides all this, external examiners are almost invariably drawn from institutions affected by grade inflation – ie they come with “baggage”. There is, thus, currently no brake on the downward spiral, and unless things change, UK higher education will lose its pre-eminent world reputation.
Eleanor Busby’s analysis of the rise of top degrees awarded by universities today fails to take account of the fact we certainly are not comparing like for like (”Are young minds working harder than ever before?”, 17 January).
I got my degree back in 1994 and after three years of hard work I was awarded a lower second class degree. In those days it was the average degree awarded by universities.
We did find the mathematics course really difficult because of its abstract nature. I noticed that after we left they turned the three-year degree into a four-year master’s course, but you could do an easier three-year course and get a normal undergraduate degree.
Degrees obviously evolve over time to reflect changes in subject matter, student ability on intake and market forces. One of the profound differences is that we used to read for a degree; now, students study for one.
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Cream of the crop
When I was an undergraduate at the beginning of the 1960s, a first class honours degree was a very rare beast, so much so that the news of someone achieving such success would spread throughout the campus at lightning speed.
I find it hard to believe that the quality of teaching has improved to the extent implied by the award of “firsts” to a quarter of graduating students.
Your editorial rightly argues that the government should publish a green budget and emphasises how difficult it will be to promote change in individual households. The government should take the opportunity to experiment with citizens’ assemblies.
These have been used successfully in many countries, including Ireland, Canada and Poland, and cover many issues. Citizens guided by experts and moderators should discuss the hard choices necessary for reducing carbon emissions.
Even if the government were to use a large parliamentary majority to ram through environmental measures this would only deepen existing national divisions.
The failed attempt to impose a system of universal credit was an example of top-down administration. The better way is to build a national consensus and obtain support for measures from the bottom up.
It just crossed my mind that with political machinations in Moscow and impeachment in Washington DC, how on earth are presidents Putin and Trump going to find the time to attend the Brexit knees-up on 31 January?