Pressure rises to ‘give high marks’

Initial Best University Workplace results suggest quality is being compromised in a bid to boost student numbers

October 23, 2014

Source: Alamy

Packed: increased student recruitment is a concern for many academics

Four in 10 academics believe that pressure to give students better marks has increased at their institution, with about a third saying that their university has compromised on student quality in a bid to increase or preserve student numbers, according to a survey of more than 1,000 UK scholars.

According to the preliminary results of the 2015 Times Higher Education Best University Workplace Survey, which is still open, 38 per cent of academics say that pressure to give better marks has risen, while 32 per cent believe that their university has compromised on student quality in order to maintain or boost student numbers.

One respondent, a lecturer in engineering and technology at a university in the South of England, said that the vice-chancellor was “money obsessed” and had “implemented a culture of rack ’em, pack ’em and stack ’em” regarding student recruitment, and the “senior management team encourages unethical and immoral recruitment”.

A science scholar at one post-1992 institution said: “It is not sensible for 50 per cent of students to graduate with first or upper-second class degrees. Forty years ago it was about 10 per cent. Senior management do not openly admit to that change, but frontline staff more or less passively fall into line.”

A senior lecturer at a university in northeast England claimed that “students on science degrees enter barely numerate and don’t always leave much better off”, while a professor in biosciences at a Russell Group institution said: “Academic standards are slipping…marking not hard enough. Too many students are getting a first – 33 per cent in my subject.”

More than 2,700 university staff from across Britain have already taken part in the 2015 survey, 1,100 of whom identified themselves as working in academic roles. It is the second year that THE has sought to gather the views of the sector to find out where universities are succeeding – and where they are failing – in their duty of care to staff. The survey is still open to all UK higher education employees.

John Gill, THE editor, said: “The more people who participate in this, our second annual survey, the more detailed will be the picture that we piece together about working life in the UK’s higher education institutions.

“We hope to build on last year’s excellent response, which allowed us to produce one of the most in-depth independent analyses of university life ever published – but we can’t do that without your help.”

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