Value of degrees: sector body announces plans to protect standards

After releasing a statement in May 2019, a sector advisory body has released new guidance on degree classifications

New guidance on degrees classifications has been published for universities in an effort to protect the value of undergraduate qualifications.

The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) released its common degree classification descriptions that set out a general criteria for awarding bodies to follow.

After an 18-month programme involving Universities UK, Guild HE and the Quality Assurance Agency, the new guidance follows a sector-wide statement in May 2019 which pledged to tackle grade inflation.

In September 2019, education secretary Gavin Williamson warned vice-chancellors that more must be done to tackle the problem.

Speaking at the Universities UK conference in Birmingham, Mr Williamson said: “In 1997, when I graduated, 50% of students gained a first or 2.1. Last year, 80% of students did so.”

“If we don’t tackle them, your hard-won reputation for excellence will be undermined,” he added.

Read more: Universities to tackle perception of ‘dumbed down’ degrees

Prof Andrew Wathe, vice-chancellor of Northumbria University and chair of the UKSCQA, said: “The UK delivers world-class education to students from all nations. It is therefore right that the sector commits to ensuring that the value of these world-class qualifications is maintained over time in line with the expectations of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.

“Degree outcomes statements will be used by participating providers to demonstrate transparently the rigour and robustness of their internal assurance mechanisms, to give students, other stakeholders and the public confidence in the quality of HE qualifications.” 

Dr David Llewellyn, vice-chancellor of Harper Adams University and chair of GuildHE, said: “The UK higher education sector is committed to delivering high quality education. The new degree outcomes statements will outline each institution’s degree classification profile over time and describe what has happened, what has changed and why it has changed.

“These statements, alongside the new grade classification descriptors, will further support academic governance within institutions and provide assurance that standards within UK higher education are being maintained and protected.”

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