Are universities awarding too many firsts? Watch

shooks
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This is something that comes up quite regularly these days. Now, a report from public service think tank Reform says there are too many first being awarded by unis.

Story from the BBC:
Universities risk losing their credibility due to "rocketing" grade inflation, a think tank has said.

According to Reform, the proportion of firsts awarded almost doubled between 1997-2009 and rose by 26% since 2010.

Their report calls for national tests to set degree grade benchmarks meaning only the top 10% of students could be awarded firsts.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-44548322

That national test idea sounds like a bit of a pipe-dream - they'd basically have to set up uni-level exam boards, which seems like something too complex to ever come to pass.

But what else could be done to tackle grade inflation. And does grade inflation actually matter anyway?
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random_matt
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Which uni's though? I've read Durhams stats and not many get firsts, are these *****y uni's just trying to make themselves look better?
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MongoDB
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Probably, yes.

One of my best friends went to Brighton University to do Politics and he told me dead straight faced that any essay written with an overwhelming far left bias was essentially a guaranteed first. Any essay that attempted to challenge left wing thought was either a 2:2 (or below) or ungraded.
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SuperHuman98
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Should be a good thing because students are becoming better?

Why not set it like grade boundaries then? So it reflects how well people do e.g. firsts can be harder if more people are hitting top marks.

Also amount of firsts are doubling because people have access to more resources e.g. the internet :holmes:?
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LeaX
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I got a first but I don't see how there is grade inflation, given that there are strict, detailed criteria for each classification, and your overall classification is a result of many, many small assessments marked by many different lecturers. It is frustrating reading this kind of thing, it is the same with a-levels and GCSEs, it seems to erase achievement and make people think they don't "deserve" their grades.

I think with the use of the internet, you can't compare students graduating now to students graduating say 20 years ago. It's obvious we are going to be doing better in academics as we have access to more resources to help us in our studies. I have used forums for advice, Wikipedia, Youtube, Google Scholar, PubMed and more to help with my studies, as have all other students.

I think the UMS method works well for a-levels and GCSE so something similar could work. I do think modules need to be standardised somehow, as I have studied modules which have been really difficult and had something like 4% getting a first in, and others that are easier.
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Doones
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(Original post by random_matt)
Which uni's though? I've read Durhams stats and not many get firsts, are these *****y uni's just trying to make themselves look better?
Durham awarded 30.6% Firsts in 2016/17.
Puts them 10th, above St Andrews (14th), LSE (16th) and Cambridge (30th).

Edit to correct places.
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nulli tertius
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(Original post by J-SP)
Maybe it has just got easier to study?

In exactly the same way it’s got easier to do most things in life with advancements in technology.
The problem with this argument is that there are plenty of academics teaching today whose experience goes back to the 1970s or earlier (the longest serving academic regularly teaching students I am aware of started in 1948) and they don't tend to agree.
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Exceptional
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(Original post by Doonesbury)
Durham awarded 30.6% Firsts in 2016/17.
Puts them 12th, above St Andrews (16th), LSE (18th) and Cambridge (32nd).
Do you have the ranking of unis according to Firsts?
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gjd800
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I keep hearing contrasting opinions, including a couple from old guard at established institutions that think their places do it to bump them up a league table. I don't know about any of that, but my own (limited) experience is this: we don't get told to grade to a ratio or bellcurve, giving out a first is relatively rare (I gave like 2 out of 80 essays marked in one topic in May), we mark according to a pretty stringent rubric.

Could just be our dept, or our discipline, but I don't know. This is before an external has ratified the moderated marks - I've never had a mark I have given out changed in moderation. Maybe I'd go work somewhere else and this'd be different.
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Doones
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(Original post by Exceptional)
Do you have the ranking of unis according to Firsts?
EDIT: recalculated - see later post here:
https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho...4&postcount=66
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Exceptional
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(Original post by Doonesbury)
I've redone it in line with the Reform analysis (i.e. only included His with more than 1000 students):

Rank University Firsts
1 : The University of Surrey : 44.4%
2 : Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine : 38.9%
3 : University College London : 36.6%
4 : The University of East Anglia : 33.7%
5 : The University of Huddersfield : 32.2%
6 : The University of Oxford : 31.9%
7 : The University of Greenwich : 31.8%
8 : The University of West London : 31.6%
9 : The University of Bath : 30.9%
10 : University of Durham : 30.6%
11 : Anglia Ruskin University : 30.5%
12 : The University of Salford : 30.2%
13 : University of Northumbria at Newcastle : 29.7%
14 : The University of St Andrews : 29.6%
15 : King's College London : 29.5%
16 : London School of Economics and Political Science : 29.5%
17 : University for the Creative Arts : 29.5%
18 : Aston University : 29.4%
19 : The University of Essex : 29.3%
20 : University of Nottingham : 29.0%
21 : The University of Manchester : 28.9%
22 : Staffordshire University : 28.4%
23 : The University of Leeds : 28.3%
24 : Edge Hill University : 28.1%
25 : The University of Birmingham : 28.1%
26 : Sheffield Hallam University : 27.8%
27 : The University of Wolverhampton : 27.6%
28 : The University of Bristol : 27.6%
29 : The Manchester Metropolitan University : 27.4%

30 : The University of Cambridge : 27.3%

31 : Kingston University : 27.3%

32 : The University of Liverpool : 26.9%

33 : London South Bank University : 26.7%

34 : The University of Warwick : 26.6%

35 : Loughborough University : 26.5%

36 : The University of Southampton : 26.5%

37 : Swansea University : 26.4%

38 : The University of Bradford : 26.3%

39 : Southampton Solent University : 26.2%

40 : Coventry University : 26.1%

41 : University of Wales Trinity Saint David : 26.0%

42 : The University of Reading : 26.0%

43 : The University of Edinburgh : 25.9%

44 : The University of Central Lancashire : 25.9%

45 : Queen Mary University of London : 25.9%

46 : Liverpool John Moores University : 25.8%

47 : The University of Kent : 25.5%

48 : Birmingham City University : 25.5%

49 : The University of York : 25.3%

50 : The University of Strathclyde : 25.3%

51 : De Montfort University : 25.2%

52 : Bangor University : 25.2%

53 : The University of Portsmouth : 25.1%

54 : Teesside University : 25.0%

55 : The University of Lancaster : 25.0%

56 : The University of Exeter : 24.8%

57 : University of Derby : 24.6%

58 : Royal Holloway and Bedford New College : 24.5%

59 : Brunel University London : 24.2%

60 : Cardiff University : 24.0%

61 : Goldsmiths College : 23.7%

62 : University of Plymouth : 23.7%

63 : The University of Sussex : 23.7%

64 : Middlesex University : 23.6%

65 : The University of Aberdeen : 23.5%

66 : The University of Glasgow : 23.4%

67 : The Queen's University of Belfast : 23.3%

68 : Heriot-Watt University : 23.1%

69 : University of Gloucestershire : 23.1%

70 : The University of East London : 23.0%

71 : The University of Westminster : 22.9%

72 : The University of Sheffield : 22.8%

73 : University of the West of England, Bristol : 22.6%

74 : University of Ulster : 22.4%

75 : University of Hertfordshire : 22.4%

76 : University of South Wales : 22.4%

77 : Bournemouth University : 22.3%

78 : Newcastle University : 21.6%

79 : The University of Northampton : 21.5%

80 : The Nottingham Trent University : 21.5%

81 : St Mary's University, Twickenham : 21.4%

82 : The University of Leicester : 21.3%

83 : The University of Lincoln : 21.3%

84 : University of the Arts, London : 21.2%

85 : Cardiff Metropolitan University : 21.2%

86 : Falmouth University : 21.0%

87 : Oxford Brookes University : 20.9%

88 : Keele University : 20.6%

89 : City, University of London : 20.5%

90 : Canterbury Christ Church University : 20.4%

91 : University of Bedfordshire : 19.9%

92 : The University of Dundee : 19.2%

93 : University of Worcester : 19.2%

94 : University of Chester : 19.1%

95 : The University of Stirling : 19.1%

96 : The University of Brighton : 19.1%

97 : The University of Hull : 18.8%

98 : The University of Winchester : 18.6%

99 : Aberystwyth University : 18.3%

100 : Leeds Beckett University : 18.3%

101 : London Metropolitan University : 18.1%

102 : Liverpool Hope University : 17.9%

103 : The University of Sunderland : 17.9%

104 : York St John University : 17.6%

105 : The Robert Gordon University : 17.1%

106 : University of Cumbria : 16.7%

107 : Buckinghamshire New University : 16.4%

108 : Roehampton University : 15.8%

109 : Birkbeck College : 15.7%

110 : The Open University : 15.4%

111 : The University of Chichester : 14.5%

112 : Bath Spa University : 14.5%

113 : Glasgow Caledonian University : 12.5%

114 : Edinburgh Napier University : 11.0%

115 : The University of the West of Scotland : 7.0%
Except at the extremes of the list, it's hard to tell whether the unis that award a lot (few) do so because their students are conscientious (lackadaisical) or the course is easy (difficult)
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ageshallnot
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(Original post by Doonesbury)
I've redone it in line with the Reform analysis (i.e. only included universities with more than 1000 students):

# : University : Firsts
1 : The University of Surrey : 44.4%
2 : Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine : 38.9%
3 : University College London : 36.6%
4 : The University of East Anglia : 33.7%
5 : The University of Huddersfield : 32.2%
6 : The University of Oxford : 31.9%
7 : The University of Greenwich : 31.8%
8 : The University of West London : 31.6%
9 : The University of Bath : 30.9%
10 : University of Durham : 30.6%
11 : Anglia Ruskin University : 30.5%
12 : The University of Salford : 30.2%
13 : University of Northumbria at Newcastle : 29.7%
14 : The University of St Andrews : 29.6%
15 : King's College London : 29.5%
16 : London School of Economics and Political Science : 29.5%
17 : University for the Creative Arts : 29.5%
18 : Aston University : 29.4%
19 : The University of Essex : 29.3%
20 : University of Nottingham : 29.0%
21 : The University of Manchester : 28.9%
22 : Staffordshire University : 28.4%
23 : The University of Leeds : 28.3%
24 : Edge Hill University : 28.1%
25 : The University of Birmingham : 28.1%
26 : Sheffield Hallam University : 27.8%
27 : The University of Wolverhampton : 27.6%
28 : The University of Bristol : 27.6%
29 : The Manchester Metropolitan University : 27.4%
30 : The University of Cambridge : 27.3%
31 : Kingston University : 27.3%
32 : The University of Liverpool : 26.9%
33 : London South Bank University : 26.7%
34 : The University of Warwick : 26.6%
35 : Loughborough University : 26.5%
36 : The University of Southampton : 26.5%
37 : Swansea University : 26.4%
38 : The University of Bradford : 26.3%
39 : Southampton Solent University : 26.2%
40 : Coventry University : 26.1%
41 : University of Wales Trinity Saint David : 26.0%
42 : The University of Reading : 26.0%
43 : The University of Edinburgh : 25.9%
44 : The University of Central Lancashire : 25.9%
45 : Queen Mary University of London : 25.9%
46 : Liverpool John Moores University : 25.8%
47 : The University of Kent : 25.5%
48 : Birmingham City University : 25.5%
49 : The University of York : 25.3%
50 : The University of Strathclyde : 25.3%
51 : De Montfort University : 25.2%
52 : Bangor University : 25.2%
53 : The University of Portsmouth : 25.1%
54 : Teesside University : 25.0%
55 : The University of Lancaster : 25.0%
56 : The University of Exeter : 24.8%
57 : University of Derby : 24.6%
58 : Royal Holloway and Bedford New College : 24.5%
59 : Brunel University London : 24.2%
60 : Cardiff University : 24.0%
61 : Goldsmiths College : 23.7%
62 : University of Plymouth : 23.7%
63 : The University of Sussex : 23.7%
64 : Middlesex University : 23.6%
65 : The University of Aberdeen : 23.5%
66 : The University of Glasgow : 23.4%
67 : The Queen's University of Belfast : 23.3%
68 : Heriot-Watt University : 23.1%
69 : University of Gloucestershire : 23.1%
70 : The University of East London : 23.0%
71 : The University of Westminster : 22.9%
72 : The University of Sheffield : 22.8%
73 : University of the West of England, Bristol : 22.6%
74 : University of Ulster : 22.4%
75 : University of Hertfordshire : 22.4%
76 : University of South Wales : 22.4%
77 : Bournemouth University : 22.3%
78 : Newcastle University : 21.6%
79 : The University of Northampton : 21.5%
80 : The Nottingham Trent University : 21.5%
81 : St Mary's University, Twickenham : 21.4%
82 : The University of Leicester : 21.3%
83 : The University of Lincoln : 21.3%
84 : University of the Arts, London : 21.2%
85 : Cardiff Metropolitan University : 21.2%
86 : Falmouth University : 21.0%
87 : Oxford Brookes University : 20.9%
88 : Keele University : 20.6%
89 : City, University of London : 20.5%
90 : Canterbury Christ Church University : 20.4%
91 : University of Bedfordshire : 19.9%
92 : The University of Dundee : 19.2%
93 : University of Worcester : 19.2%
94 : University of Chester : 19.1%
95 : The University of Stirling : 19.1%
96 : The University of Brighton : 19.1%
97 : The University of Hull : 18.8%
98 : The University of Winchester : 18.6%
99 : Aberystwyth University : 18.3%
100 : Leeds Beckett University : 18.3%
101 : London Metropolitan University : 18.1%
102 : Liverpool Hope University : 17.9%
103 : The University of Sunderland : 17.9%
104 : York St John University : 17.6%
105 : The Robert Gordon University : 17.1%
106 : University of Cumbria : 16.7%
107 : Buckinghamshire New University : 16.4%
108 : Roehampton University : 15.8%
109 : Birkbeck College : 15.7%
110 : The Open University : 15.4%
111 : The University of Chichester : 14.5%
112 : Bath Spa University : 14.5%
113 : Glasgow Caledonian University : 12.5%
114 : Edinburgh Napier University : 11.0%
115 : The University of the West of Scotland : 7.0%
This shows how much things have changed. When I was an undergraduate in the 1970s it was known that only 4-5% of students on my course would get a first. Now 25% get firsts... yeah, right...
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the bear
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young folk are much cleverer than 50 years ago. stands to reason.
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Doones
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(Original post by ageshallnot)
This shows how much things have changed. When I was an undergraduate in the 1970s it was known that only 4-5% of students on my course would get a first. Now 25% get firsts... yeah, right...
Yeah but you were under a table most of the time

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Notoriety
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(Original post by mongodb)
Probably, yes.

One of my best friends went to Brighton University to do Politics and he told me dead straight faced that any essay written with an overwhelming far left bias was essentially a guaranteed first. Any essay that attempted to challenge left wing thought was either a 2:2 (or below) or ungraded.
Was your friend marking the work or just a student talking shite?
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Acsel
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(Original post by SuperHuman98)
Should be a good thing because students are becoming better?

Why not set it like grade boundaries then? So it reflects how well people do e.g. firsts can be harder if more people are hitting top marks.

Also amount of firsts are doubling because people have access to more resources e.g. the internet :holmes:?
If only it were as simple as high grades equates to smart students.

I feel like this doesn't work though. Grade boundaries are great when you are trying to put lots of students on a scale but are not very good for determining academic ability. Flexible grade boundaries work for saying "these are the top 10% of students this year" but don't work when an employer needs to know that a First in 2012 was worth more than a First in 2016.

University is for most people where their education sets them up for a job, as opposed to setting them up for the next level of education. I can't imagine employers will follow or be all that familiar with flexible grade boundaries year on year.

Personally I think part of the problem is that grade boundaries themselves are so exceptionally low. 70% is such a small number and effectively tells students that to be at the top you only need to do a little more than two thirds of the work.

I completely agree that better access to resources helps facilitate higher grades, and I'm sure we could all aruge all day about whether students are getting smarter, or if education is getting easier. But fundamentally when you have anything in the top 30% of marks equating to a First and nothing to actually differentiate them, I'd say it makes a lot of sense to have so many Firsts and as a result, they become devalued. There are of course many other factors, such as course difficulty or how easily marks are awarded but I've always felt like the 70% required for a top grade seemed far too low.
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gjd800
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(Original post by Notoriety)
Was your friend marking the work or just a student talking shite?
I hazard the latter. Maybe they just weren't very good at formulating arguments to the contrary.
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Notoriety
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(Original post by gjd800)
I hazard the latter. Maybe they just weren't very good at formulating arguments to the contrary.
Aye.

Although Brighton does have a weird faculty, specially in philosophy. A lotta Marxists who are't brilliant enough to get a gig at RHUL.
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gjd800
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(Original post by Notoriety)
Aye.

Although Brighton does have a weird faculty, specially in philosophy. A lotta Marxists who are't brilliant enough to get a gig at RHUL.
Sure (it's not even a proper phil dept, really - and everything is CW based), but it doesn't really matter - a good argument is a good argument, regardless of what it is arguing for. I suppose one might stake the claim that in instances such as that described above, everybody is 'in on it'. But by the time you factor in externals and all that other boring stuff, it is very, unlikely.

Incidentally, I have a mate teaching at Royal Holloway (nominally - I think he is in France for the time being), and he is quite brilliant.
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username1230881
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Under Reform's proposals final-year students would sit new, national assessments set by a "designated assessment body".

This proposal would essentially transform universities, requiring degrees to essentially avoid specialisation and be standardised completely. It'd effectively be like harder A levels, surely. Perhaps there are too many Firsts being awarded - 40% at Surrey does seem like a lot - but transforming degrees into a standardised affair would be a huge transformation and arguably not one for the better.
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