I was interviewed by S4C last night about some statistics showing that the number of graduates gaining first class and upper second class degrees had significantly increased over the last 5 years.

I wrote about this a year or so ago and explained what I believe are three reasons for increased student success:


  • Massification: As student numbers have grown, students have become much much more competitive and focussed on getting the best grades. The days when a Douglas Hurd (Third Class) or a Desmond Tutu (Lower second class) were acceptable because you still had a good degree, are long gone. Students know that employers won’t look at you if you don’t have a 2:1 and they aim directly for that
  • Transparency: 20 years ago, you would still find academics would base their mark on the view that “I know a good 2:1 when I read it”. Fine in the days when you only had a handful of scripts, but those days are now long gone. Clear grading criteria is now widespread, and so the ambiguity about what sits in each classification is gone. And of course, with clear criteria we did away with proportional distribution of degree classification, anyone who meets the grade, gets the grade.
  • Feedback: Universities have, to their credit, put so much effort into improving feedback on assessment, this in turn will be helping students to improve their submissions.

I haven’t changed my mind. One further point that both I and Professor Sir Deian Hopkin made in the piece was that the degree classification system has had its day. It’s time to look to the US, Australian and Chinese systems and to introduce a more granular GPA system that differentiates student achievement more explicitly.


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