The great grade giveaway. Like beads for boobs but with 1st class degrees.

I like universities. Really I do. I think they are fantastic, inspiring, inspirational, wonderful cathedrals of thought, activity and ambition. Which makes reading and then writing these nasty, brutish comments about them all the more galling but they really aren’t helping me out. Every day sees a new and embarrassing cavalcade of cynical devaluation of what should be the greatest authority on a student’s academic prowess and ability. A concrete signifier to any would be employer of what they are capable of. And yet. And yet, each day the dirty money grubbing little shits conspire to undermine their own value. They are literally hacking away at their own foundations. Like the USA trying to barter their way around climate change at a certain point the whole edifice will devour itself and what will be left is a white dwarf brimming with hubris.

So, who’s upset me now you might ask?  This – A new report that shows the proportion of firsts class degrees grades awarded by UK universities has bloated exponentially – with some now gifting them to more than a third of their students. For instance the University of Surrey handed them out like sweets on Halloween with 41% of students last year getting a 1st, more than double than five years ago. The University of East Anglia have almost trebled their great grade giveaway to 37%.

In the Russell Group more than a quarter of students received a first-class degree, which given so many of their slumps in the rankings is hardly surprising, they’ve got to get them through the door. Firstly they reduce the tariff for getting in, now they are flinging firsts around like beads on Mardi Gras.  If you see below the hysterical grade inflation that has gone on as illustrated below, can we all honestly believe that this is due to students organically en masse getting smarter and teaching standards raised to such a level that it’s easier to get a first than a 2:2?

  • 1994: 7% of graduates awarded first-class degrees
  • 2004: 11%
  • 2014: 19%
  • 2016: 24%

Given that universities are their own barometer of quality and are answerable to no one when it comes to the award of degrees it’s an open field for this trend to continue.

“There are people who think the system isn’t as robust as it might be,” said Nick Hillman, head of the Higher Education Policy Institute. “A comparison would be if schools could decide how many A grades to give in A-levels – it’s a big incentive for grade inflation,” said Mr Hillman.


There’s no reason for them not to do so, in a competitive market place as we have now, students may be more inclined to choose universities based on the likelihood of gaining a top class degree and frankly why wouldn’t they? Additionally issuing first class degrees may help the unis themselves rise through the rankings. But, as with the proliferation of degrees generally making it harder for students to differentiate themselves in the eyes of an employer so to will the grade inflation. If everyone has firsts then it becomes meaningless. The truly great candidates will no longer stand out. The purpose of the education is to give one an edge, to show one’s academic rigour, to demonstrate commitment, capacity, intellect and so on, if everyone’s got the same award how the hell can an employer make an informed choice?  ( )

When you look at the stats below it’s obvious that many of these universities are simply jockeying for position given where they currently languish in the rankings. Others, should frankly know better.

 Most shameless increases in first-class degrees in mainstream universities 2010-11 to 2015-16

  • University of Surrey 3% to 41.2%
  • University of East Anglia 5% to 34%
  • University of Bradford 3% to 27.6%
  • University of Stirling 6% to 27.8%
  • University of Derby 4% to 25%
  • University of Dundee 3% to 34.8%
  • University of West London 6% to 27%
  • University of Wales Trinity Saint David 7.1% to 22.2%
  • Southampton Solent University 6% to 23.5%
  • Staffordshire University 2% to 27%

So there it is, draw your own conclusions but to my mind, it does every honest, hardworking bright student a disservice, it besmirches the idea and the institution of university and it’s a slap in the face for every graduate that’s gone before that earned their first on merit.


3 thoughts on “The great grade giveaway. Like beads for boobs but with 1st class degrees.

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