Graduates will be less likely to get a first-class degree next year, universities in England will warn as they pledge to reverse pandemic grade inflation.
Universities UK and GuildHE, which represent more than 100 universities across the country, will announce that by 2023, they will bring the proportion of first-class and 2.1 degrees back in line with pre-pandemic levels.
The announcement, which is the first of its kind, comes after a sharp rise in the number of first-class degrees awarded during the pandemic, with 36 per cent of students achieving the top grade in 2020-21, compared to 28 per cent in the year prior to the pandemic.
The university associations admitted that grade inflation could not be explained by developments in teaching and learning and said that it risked undermining student, employer and public confidence in the system.
‘Maintaining robust academic standards’
Anthony McClaran, the chairman of GuildHE and the vice-chancellor of St Mary’s University Twickenham, said: “Higher education institutions are strongly committed to maintaining robust academic standards.
“During the pandemic, we have rightly recognised the disruption that students have faced and supported students’ achievement to be recognised as flexibly as possible.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, it is time to redouble our focus on protecting academic standards and take strong action to ensure we maintain the wider confidence and trust in the system.”
In the first year of the pandemic, universities used “no detriment” policies, whereby testing was adapted so that no student would be academically disadvantaged because of the pandemic.
This approach typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the university’s most recent assessment of their work. Other assessment changes during the pandemic included open-book exams.
‘Covid no excuse for baked-in grade inflation’
In 2020-21, 46 per cent of degrees were awarded a 2.1, while only three per cent were third-class honours, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. In the year prior to the pandemic, 48 per cent of degrees were awarded a 2.1 and four per cent were classified as a third.
The Office for Students, which regulates English universities, recently warned that Covid cannot be used as an excuse for “baked-in” university grade inflation.
Data released by the regulator in May show that more than half of the firsts awarded to students in 2021 could not be explained when compared with students’ results a decade ago.
The associations for universities in Scotland and Wales said they have not signed up to the same pledge and had no existing plans to do so.