Half of universities have ‘made changes to degree algorithms’

Higher Education Academy report into quality assessment recommends creation of a task force to establish guidelines around the 2:1-2:2 borderline

June 11, 2015
Limbo dancer
Source: Alamy
Moving the bar: the paper calls for a 'sensible range of classification algorithms'

Almost half of universities have changed how they calculate their degree classifications in the past five years to ensure that students do not get lower grades on average than those at rival institutions.

The Higher Education Academy found that 47 per cent of institutions it surveyed had changed their degree algorithms since 2010 to “ensure that their students were not disadvantaged compared to those in other institutions”. Some 70 per cent of graduates achieved at least a 2:1 in 2013-14 compared with 63 per cent in 2009-10, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

The different ways to calculate overall student grades, which can affect a university’s league table position, often revolve around whether institutions should disregard the weakest marks achieved by students when calculating their final degree classification or give a higher weighting to final-year marks.

The finding of the HEA research on external examining is mentioned in a draft policy paper seen by Times Higher Education on how to safeguard academic standards.

The document, the final version of which is set to be published shortly by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, says that those in higher education are “comfortable” with current methods to maintain standards, but that “those outside the sector are more sceptical”. There is little evidence of an “effective counter-narrative to regular press claims of ‘grade inflation’”, adds the paper, Future Approaches to Quality Assessment – England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It says that universities should set up a task force to determine a “sensible range of possible classification algorithms”, with guidelines needed around the 2:1-2:2 borderline.

As part of the proposals for quality assurance in the draft report, regular institutional reviews undertaken by the Quality Assurance Agency would be scrapped and universities would be monitored every five years via information submitted on student outcomes, such as satisfaction scores.

The draft paper also proposes the creation of a register of external examiners overseen by an external body, which would have responsibility for training staff.

Examiners within a subject community should come together to “compare their students’ work and to judge student achievement against the standards set in order to improve comparability and consistency”, it says. Those “calibration of degree standard” groups could involve subject associations, regional clusters of subject specialists or professional organisations, although awarding bodies would still decide final marks.

A three-month consultation will begin once the final document is published, with proposals set to take effect in full from 2017-18.

jack.grove@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

POSTSCRIPT:

Article originally published as: Algorithms are ‘flexible friend’ (11 June 2015)

Reader's comments (1)

This is not grade inflation, of course... The industry regulating itself is "comfortable" with the it does business... sound familiar? Can they work on an algorithm to show how long it is before chickens come home to roost?

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry

But the highest value UK spin-off companies mainly come from research-intensive universities, latest figures show