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11th November 2014

Universities prioritising recruitment numbers over standards, say academics

Nearly one in four academics surveyed by the Times Higher Education magazine believe that universities are encouraging them to award higher grades to students

One-third of academics believe that educational standards are being compromised in favour of recruiting a higher number of students to overcrowded universities, a study has shown.

Furthermore, there are allegations of grade inflation encouraged in order to manipulate league table results, which many blame on a profit-focused, target-based model of management.

The data was collected by the Times Higher Education magazine, which polled over 1000 staff at universities across the country.

38 per cent of academics say that the “pressure to give better marks” by managers at universities “has risen” in the past few years. This means that more and more students are graduating with first and upper second class degrees, in an attempt by universities to increase funding.

32 per cent believe their university has “compromised on students’ quality in order to maintain or boost student numbers.”

An engineering and technology lecturer at a southern university blamed the culture of “rack ‘em, pack ‘em and stack ‘em” amongst greedy managers encouraging “unethical and immoral recruitment.”

Since the government lifted the cap on the number of high-achieving students—those who receive AAB or higher in their A-levels—that universities may recruit in early 2012, there have been concerns about the move’s consequences.

Many top-tier universities took advantage of this reform to allow greater numbers of students into their establishments, at some places leading to overcrowding and a shortage of accommodation.

And in 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced last year, the cap will be eliminated for students of all standards, which has been cause for concern for academics putting priority on quality of education rather than quantity.

An academic from a university in the north-east of England told the Times Higher Education guide, “students on science degrees are barely numerate and don’t always leave much better off.”

256990 students, more than two-thirds of all graduates, received an upper second class degree or higher last year upon graduating.

The percentage of students leaving with a first class degree was 7.4 per cent higher last year, at 18.4 per cent, than it was ten years ago.

A Russell Group biosciences professor said marking is “not hard enough. Too many students are getting a first—33 per cent in my subject.”

Another lecturer from a British university said, “It is not sensible for 50 per cent of students to graduate with first or upper-second class degrees.

“Forty years ago it was about 10 per cent. Senior management do not openly admit to that change, but frontline staff more or less passively fall into line.”

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