159 Views
1 Comments

“Dumbing Down”: higher grades for higher rankings?

(Illustration: Chris Harrisson)

(Illustration: Chris Harrisson)

In a poll by the Times Higher Education magazine, 77% of 500 academics asked say they feel coerced into giving out higher grades to students in order to improve the rankings of their universities. This comes at a time where many feel the UK’s University standards are “dumbing down.”

Seen as scandalous, universities have been lowering academic standards to ensure that more students pass. Though it improves or maintains university rankings, many feel it lowers staff motivation, as well as student incentive. Furthermore, with more and more schools initiating policies to make it harder for students to fail, quality is being sacrificed for quantity.

Lewis Elton, a visiting professor of higher education at the University of Gloucestershire says “If there is something very wrong with universities today, it is the imbalance in importance of research and of teaching and learning.”

In the past 10 years, the UK student population has grown significantly, yet the number of first class degrees for undergraduates has grown at an even higher rate (about a half). This has left people asking, are students getting smarter or are universities really “dumbing down”?

‘Though it improves university rankings, many feel it lowers staff motivation, as well as student incentive’

One of the first universities accused of lowering its standards to increase graduation rates was the Thames Valley University (TVU). In 1997, TVU lowered the passing threshold from 40 percent down to 30 percent.
In 2004, De Montfront University, after experiencing high failure rates among students, threatened the jobs of many academics if they didn’t award higher marks to pharmacy undergraduates.

Just last year, in 2007, Paul Buckland, a professor of archeology for 25 years at Bournemouth University, resigned when 10 out of 14 students that he failed, and described as “knuckle-draggingly thick,” were allowed to pass after their results were altered without his acknowledgement. An employment tribunal dealing with Professor Buckland’s case said “His views and his position as a senior academic were disregarded in a manner that he was entitled to regard as insulting.”

At the University of Sussex, it is evident that educators are being pressured into giving higher grades. One academic, who chooses to remain anonymous, says “We have reached a situation where students expect to attain at least a 2:1 grade and are disappointed when they do not. That creates a culture of expectation and entitlement that can mean academics raising grades.”

Many feel that these reported “dumbing down” incidents are of a very negative nature, and they take the merit out of academics. Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent says how “no one advocates dumbing down, but the unintentional outcome of the policies being pursued is the devaluation of academic education.”

Professor Furedi also commented on how universities now serve almost as businesses, lowering academic standards not only to improve ratings, but to attract more students and gain profit. He states “The introduction of a pseudo-market has given rise to an undergraduates-as-customers model. Academics are exhorted to become more student-centred and to do what they can to improve the ‘student experience.’”
There are, however, feelings of optimism felt towards the lowered academic standards. The optimists point out how the world is changing, and that these academic standards are lowered to adjust to these changes. Peter Williams, the chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, says “What nonsense this all is. Standards will inevitably change over time, reflecting developments in the world at large. Whether they are the same as 10, 20, 30 years ago is irrelevant.”

Mr. Williams also argues that the debate’s focus is extraneous: “Are standards falling? Not the right question. Is higher education doing what it should be doing – improving the life chances of its students, offering opportunities hitherto denied to all but a few, and giving us a better chance to solve the problems of both today and tomorrow? Undoubtedly.”

Moreover, many, including Professor Lewis Elton, feel that the first degree is becoming less and less significant regardless of the “dumbing down” fiasco. With more and more students graduating into a competitive job market, post-graduate degrees are now what matter most. “Some academics may get upset and see soft skills in curriculums as contributing to dumbing down, but I’m not sure I would worry as much as they do. The first degree has changed – it’s much more of an ‘opening-the-doors’ degree now, rather than a passport for a lifelong career.”

Mantz Yorke, a professor at Lancaster University, defended the lowered university standards by saying it offers more opportunity to students outside the classroom, like travel or part-time work. However, he did also note that this could be distressing if the students focus on those aspects of life too much and not on their studies.

The pressure put on universities to award higher grades is seen by many as scandalous. However, it appears unlikely that standards from previous years will be retained in UK universities. With the world changing, university standards are bound to change with it.

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
505 views1
Campus News
505 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series
Arts
43 views
Arts
43 views

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - June 17, 2018

Pictured: Zac Black At Proud Cabaret audiences were spellbound as if at night at the circus, yet this was not like Angela Carter’s magical realist novel; Verve…

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review
Arts
87 views
Arts
87 views

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review

Florence Dutton - June 11, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Last Monday at 8pm at Brighton’s The Old Market, I sat myself down in my theatre seat eagerly awaiting…

Fleabag preview
Arts
89 views
Arts
89 views

Fleabag preview

Florence Dutton - June 2, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Following the mass success of the Bafta award-winning BBC Series, DryWrite and Soho Theatre are about to hit the…

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome
Arts
112 views
Arts
112 views

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome

Georgia Grace - June 1, 2018

Having completed my final semester of university with modules on punk history and queer arts, it was fitting that I rounded off my end-of-assessment celebrations by attending…

Arts
134 views

The Tempest review

Georgia Grace - May 30, 2018

As the sun begins to set over Hove Green, tinnies of Red Stripe are cracked open, tartan blankets are strewn, and families tuck into their picnic hampers.…

A Glass Half Empty review
Arts
146 views
Arts
146 views

A Glass Half Empty review

Georgia Grace - May 27, 2018

For those of us coming to the end of another year of university study, the prospect of careers, marriages and babies may seem a long way off.…

DollyWould at The Old Market review
Arts
138 views
Arts
138 views

DollyWould at The Old Market review

Alex Hutson - May 27, 2018

Sh!t Theatre’s DollyWould is a hilarious, thoughtful and experimental performance piece. The award winning show has the Sh!t Theatre duo integrating comedy, storytelling, personal experience and music.…

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex
Campus News
220 views
Campus News
220 views

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex

Billie-Jean Johnson - May 26, 2018

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has launched a petition calling for Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell to end the 'hostile environment' at Sussex. The…

Arts
102 views

Shakespeare in the sun – The Tempest preview

Georgia Grace - May 24, 2018

In a world of dystopian King Lears and female Hamlets, Shakespeare’s classics are constantly being reimagined for the modern day. There’s something oddly refreshing then about the…

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
206 views
Arts
206 views

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 23, 2018

What a phenomenal contrast these two films present when watched side-by-side. In essence, together they are capable of tracing inner and outer metamorphoses of their subjects. The…

Dollywould at The Old Market preview
Arts
134 views
Arts
134 views

Dollywould at The Old Market preview

Alex Hutson - May 22, 2018

From the 22nd May - 25th May 2018 DollyWould will be showing at The Old Market. An exciting new show, presented by Sh!t Theatre, who won the…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
211 views
Artist Focus
211 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
146 views
Interview
146 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
212 views
Arts
212 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
237 views
Arts
237 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
274 views
Arts
274 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
189 views
Artist Focus
189 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
198 views
Books
198 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
251 views
Science
251 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
260 views
News
260 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…