Public concern prompts MPs to scrutinise degree grading

July 3, 2008

Degree standards in the UK are set to be investigated by a cross-party committee of MPs.

Following a series of press reports that have raised concerns about external examiners and academic standards, Phil Willis, chair of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, plans to ask his committee to hold an inquiry on the way university standards are checked.

Mr Willis told the BBC that he was "hoping to be able to persuade my committee to take this on to investigate the veracity of what is happening in our universities and to make sure we maintain the gold standard".

He said: "If my committee doesn't do that and the Government doesn't take up the challenge, then what we will see is a tarnished reputation for some of our finest universities."

The committee was due to meet as Times Higher Education went to press.

Last week, Times Higher Education reported the concerns of external examiners who had contacted Geoffrey Alderman, professor of politics and contemporary history at the University of Buckingham, after a lecture in which he linked a collapse in academic standards to a "league-table culture" in higher education.

A number of academics wrote to Professor Alderman about their experiences of the external examiner system, describing how they or others had come under pressure to agree marks far higher than they believed the students deserved.

One said that a number of students at one institution had been given first-class marks for an answer that would have merited a fail or a third-class grade in their own institution.

In a letter to Times Higher Education this week, Peter Williams, chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, criticises Professor Alderman for accepting "hearsay statements" about external examining and making inconsistent statements, and adds: "Academics standards have not collapsed."

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