City universities mired in grade inflation row as number of firsts doubles

A university lecture theatre (stock image)

Students at Canterbury’s two main universities have twice the chance to earn first class degree since the raising of tuition fees, new research shows.

Grade inflation is being blamed for the increase since 2010 and there are fears it is jeopardising the quality of the degrees.

But the universities insist that students are working harder with better materials and better teaching.

A report by thinktank Reform’s is based on data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency which analysed results since the government tripled tuition fees in 2010.

It found that in 2010 a total of 915 undergraduate students (12.9%) from 7,115 at the University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) received first class degrees.

By 2017 the percentage of firsts had leapt to 24.2% as 2,035 from 8,400 achieved firsts.

Education thinktank the Higher Education Policy Institute is troubled by the findings.

Director Nick Hillman, said: “Grade inflation helps no one except where it really is a reflection of much better teaching and learning.

“It ends up confusing employers and others about the value of each grade of degree.

“Universities compete fiercely against one another and are regularly ranked in league tables that take degree classifications into account, so we need a sector-wide solution.”

Office for Students chief executive Nicola Dandridge added: “It is important that degrees hold their value over time, and if there is artificial grade inflation this is not in the interests of students, employers or the higher education sector.”

The percentage increase of firsts for each of Canterbury’s universities are as follows:

  • Kent: 14% in 2010 to 25.5% in 2017
  • Christ Church: 12.5% in 2010 to 20.4% in 2017
  • UCA: 10.4% in 2010 to 29.5% in 2017

The University of Kent says it “operates rigorous quality assurance procedures” with standards measured against accepted benchmarks nationally. It added that it consistently performed well in university league tables for graduate employment prospects.

UCA said it “prides itself on producing high-calibre graduates” and had made “a number of improvements in our learning and teaching environments, which continue to have a positive impact on our students’ education and achievements”.

Canterbury Christ Church University has yet to comment on the figures.


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