The debate surrounding UK degree classifications has been reignited following accusations that Greenwich University is giving students “better grades” than they deserve.
Greenwich’s system of setting final degree classifications is “not operating as intended” according to last week’s audit by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the university watchdog.
The QAA audit suggests the new classification system has led to an increase in first and upper-second class degrees.
A Greenwich spokeswoman defended the university stating that the claim “is not true” and “the QAA is citing a preliminary internal report, produced by the university itself”.
According to the university’s own records and final evaluation, the increased distribution of first and second-class degrees is so small “it could simply be a cohort effect”.
Between 2006/07 and 2007/08, when the new degree classification system was implemented, the percentage of “better grades” only rose from 43 per cent to 44 per cent.
Greenwich’s present allocations are several percent lower than the number of first and upper second-class degrees awarded by the university in 2003/04.
The Greenwich spokeswoman also pointed out that the institution is currently rated 113th in national league tables of awarded first and second-class degrees.
The recent QAA audit follows the new initiative to supplement the UK degree classification system with individual Higher Education Achievement Reports (HEAR).
To help differentiate between graduates, the 2007 Burgess Report suggested universities provide graduates with HEARs — an effort currently being trialled at several UK institutions.
According to a university spokeswoman: “Greenwich is one of the universities involved in the pilot roll out of HEAR and we definitely support the use of HEAR to provide a broader profile of the attainments of students whilst at university.”
A spokesperson for student think tank Million+ said: “There are certainly merits in the proposals to develop the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).
“HEAR is likely to provide a much more rounded picture of graduate achievement.”
Underpinning the issue is the argument of grade-inflation. The Analytical Services Group of the Higher Education Funding Council of England has said that UK institutions witnessed an increase of nearly 5 per cent in the awards of firsts and upper-seconds between 1996-2003.
With more students graduating with higher grades, the Burgess Report argues there is a need for consistency between and within institutions in determining final grades “in order to be fair.”