Extra study time in lockdown ‘may have driven rise in firsts’

Universities UK and GuildHE say ‘unintended consequence’ of pandemic was less time for socialising, more time for studying

April 16, 2021
Pub Closed Blackboard or Chalkboard Sign Due to Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic
Source: iStock

Coronavirus lockdowns allowed some students to spend more time studying and could have contributed to the increase in top grades awarded in the UK last year, a report says.

More than one in three – 35 per cent – of graduates gained a first-class degree in 2019-20, compared with 28 per cent the previous year, according to Higher Education Statistics Agency data. Some 82 per cent achieved a “good” honours – a first or a 2:1 – compared with 76 per cent the previous year.

A briefing produced by Universities UK and GuildHE says that a number of factors could be behind the rise. And, while many students found the shift to online learning triggered by the pandemic difficult, for some “the circumstances have been favourable to an increased focus on independent study and revision”.

The report says that many students would have usually worked alongside their studies, but many will have been furloughed or made redundant. Meanwhile, social activities have been curtailed.

“An unintended consequence of the pandemic has been some students having additional time to focus on their studies,” the paper says.

The shift to online teaching also offered other ways for students to improve their learning. With online lectures, students could learn asynchronously, at their own pace and around their other responsibilities, with the option to revisit sessions too.

This was particularly helpful for commuter students, students in employment, those with caring responsibilities and disabled students, the report says.

Much of the rise has been previously attributed to the “no detriment” policies implemented to recognise the disruption to learning and assessment caused by the lockdowns. This meant that, when it came to classifying final year students’ degrees, students could not be given a grade lower than their previous marks.

However, this did not prevent universities upholding quality and standards when it came to end-of-year exams, the report says.

For example, universities were also able to change the format of assessments rather than cancel them. Many switched from summative exams to formative assessment, such as coursework and digital portfolios, which have the benefit of “focusing on comprehension instead of memorisation”, the paper says.

It is also likely that no-detriment policies may have influenced student behaviour, by giving them the confidence to relax and perform better, for example.

UUK and GuildHE write that the sector must now “take forward the new opportunities created during the pandemic’s upheaval and further our understanding of the diverse factors that drive degree classification results”.


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Reader's comments (3)

Yes and in most Universities students were given 24 or more hours to replace a 3 hour exam and students had full sets of notes and solutions ot exercises in front of them.....very strange this is not mentioned in the above article !
Also various mitigations were added under no-detriment policies meaning that students achieved higher overall averages. Arguably these would have a bigger impact than curtailed social activities
I'd like to see the data on which these conclusions are based. The link to the briefing that is referenced does not seem to work. Who knows, maybe there is solid empirical evidence behind those claims. But from personal experience at my University I can say that the no-detriment policy means students get a third and sometimes fourth attempt if they fail, the grades of whole modules will be automatically increased if they are lower than other modules (without consulting the module convener), extensions are given without asking too many questions, and the plagiarism offer looks the other way as soon as the alleged plagiarism quotes some sort of adverse circumstances. Meanwhile customers who show up to only a quarter of the seminars and are barely literate get a 2.1 degree. But these are just some subjective observations; I'm sure the rigorous evidence base built for that briefing document will leave no doubt that no such thing is going on and that it is indeed more study time that accounts for higher grades.


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