Bath leads country in number of Firsts awarded

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Universities are giving students more First Class Honours than ever before, information from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) suggests.

At the University of Bath there has been a continuous rise from 23% to 28% of graduates receiving the grade in the past few years.firsts - Southern Arkansas University

Nationally, between 1995 and 2013 the number of Firsts being awarded has increased from 7% to 14%.

The University of Bath is one of the most generous when it comes to grading with just Imperial College London, University College London and University of Oxford handing out more Firsts.

Meanwhile, the total number of Upper Second Class Honours made up 53% of total grades at the university, whilst Lower Seconds and Third Class degrees was just under 20% for the 2012/12 academic year.

Alan Smithers, Director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham has suggested the grade inflation was due to increased pressure on universities:

“Universities are under pressure to improve league table standings and higher degrees provide this league ranking’s links with funding and attraction of international students to the university.”

However, a University spokesperson said on the increase in top grades, “We have raised our entrance requirements for many courses over the last few years and Bath students are amongst the brightest in the country.”

“Our world-leading research informs our learning and teaching and equips our graduates with the latest thinking in their fields. Coupled with this is the diversification of assessment…we expect our students to do well in their degrees and are very proud of the results they achieve.”

Adding to this, research conducted by Lancaster University attributes the increase in grades to the rising caliber of students being accepted into universities. As students hold better A- level results and therefore are “better prepared” for university life.

In the same research it was also found that there was leniency amongst top universities where they were 8% more likely to award higher degrees after A- level differences were taken into account.

However, whilst this may be the case, the recent 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results show that the UK education standards to be stagnant at best.

In the 1990’s only 8% of students received firsts. There has been a steady increase in university population as more people have access to higher education than ever before. The make up of the university population has changed due to the steady increase in international students over the past 29 years.

Equally, there has also been a tremendous change in the course structure, moving away from exams to incorporation of coursework and lab reports contributing to the overall grade inflation as there is an increased ability to score higher in these aspects of the course.

However, some may argue that these aspects of the course allow students to improve their skills of analytical and evaluative research, among others. Skills that, are conducive to the current job market. In this new course structure students are also able to re-sit exams, which facilitate higher grades.

The increased use of modern technology has allowed for past paper access, online lectures, vast educational resources to be made available to students. This supports statements that students are indeed more prepared than ever before.
In this respect the use of modern technology has also allowed students easier avenues to plagiarise, despite strict guidelines with harsh penalties by universities.

In the past it was seen that university degrees would grant you automatic employment, albeit it was an opportunity reserved for the few elite or fortunate ones in society. However, in today’s competitive job market it would appear that students strive for at the very minimum a 2:1 in order to seek employment.

Employers now exercise far more tests and interviews as part of the vetting process prior to employment for graduates.

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Alisha Lobo is the Editor - in Chief of bathimpact. She writes about international politics with specific focus on the Middle East and India. She also reports on the University of Bath and the Students' Union. She was the former News & Comment Editor of bathimpact (2015/16).

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