Credit: Odhran Gallagher

Data reveals extent of grade inflation at UofG

By Odhran Gallagher

New data seen by The Glasgow Guardian has revealed that the number of undergraduates awarded top grades at the University of Glasgow have steadily increased in recent years.

Data seen by The Glasgow Guardian has shown a dramatic increase in the number of first class degrees awarded by the University in recent years. At the University of Glasgow, the share of first-class degrees awarded to new graduates has skyrocketed from under 20% in the 2014/15 session to over 30% in 2021/22. The data, which was collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows the number of new undergraduate degrees awarded in the UK between 2014/15 and 2021/22 broken down by institution and classification. 

The University of Glasgow’s share of first-class degrees hovered roughly around 20% before 2016, being measured at 19% in the 2014/15 session, 22% in the 2015/6 session, and 23% in the 2016/17 session before jumping to 26% the following academic year and increasing thereafter to a peak of 35% in 2020/21. The total of firsts then remained still above 30% in the 2021/22 session. 

This trend has resulted in a first-class degree now being the second most common classification at the University for seven years running, with 73% of undergraduates receiving either a first-class or upper-second honours degree in the 2021/22 session. 

This data showed a similar trend among other Russell Group universities, with the lowest percentage of first-class degrees at any single University in the group being 27% at Cardiff for the 2021/22 session, but reaching as high as 48% at Imperial College London where a first-class degree is now the most common classification. 

The data reflects a broader national trend in recent years of universities awarding a higher percentage of first-class degrees. However, a report from the Office for Students shows that this national trend peaked around 2020 and has declined gradually since, with some explaining this surge on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent no detriment policies enacted by universities. Data from the University of Glasgow is largely in line with this trend, although its percentage of first-class degrees began to increase before 2020 and still remains significantly inflated after the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. 

The Chief Executive of the Office for Students said in response to their report: “Progress is being made in tackling the increases in top grades being awarded at universities and colleges that we have seen over the past decade. That’s very welcome. But, we’re not out of the woods yet as half of first class degrees cannot be explained by students’ entry qualifications or the subject of study. Inflation of grades that does not reflect actual student achievement is bad for students, graduates and employers, and risks undermining the reputation of higher education in the UK and beyond.

“Students, graduates and employers must have confidence that degrees awarded represent a reliable assessment of achievement, with qualifications remaining credible throughout a student’s career. Our revised approach to regulating quality gives us the tools we need to intervene where this is not the case. Where we think awarding practices may not meet our requirements, we can and will use those tools to investigate further.”

Other figures within the University sector have also responded to recent grade inflation, including University of Glasgow School of Law staff who have warned about the effect of the recent marking and assessment boycott on declining academic standards and grade inflation. Moreover, Universities UK and GuildHE, which cumulatively represent 197 UK universities, including the University of Glasgow, have made a joint statement pledging to tackle grade inflation stating: “We cannot lose sight of the need to maintain the value of a degree and so must redouble our efforts to identify and address unexplained increases in firsts and 2:1s”.

A University spokesperson said: “For many years the University has had one of the highest entry tariffs in the Russell Group, but until recently one of the lowest levels of award – as measured by the percentage of good Honours degree outcomes.

“Prior to the pandemic, the University carried out a project to address this, seeking to adjust Schools’ assessment strategies so that excellent student performance was properly recognised and rewarded. It is likely that this work has contributed to an increase in good Honours outcomes, compounded during the pandemic by the impact of the “No detriment” policy.

“Moreover, since the University’s entry tariff remains among the highest in the Russell Group, a high proportion of good degree outcomes should not be unexpected.”


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