The Government has announced new measures to prevent the practice of “grade inflation” undermining the value of a degree.
Over a quarter – 26% – of students are now graduating with a first-class degree, up from 18% in 2012-2013, according to the Higher Education Stats Authority.
Now Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has said the approach that institutions take to grading will be one of the criteria they are ranked on under a new rating system.
He said on Monday: “When you look at what makes our universities so prestigious, it comes down to the value of our degrees – they open up a huge range of opportunities and the chance to step into a rewarding and highly-skilled career.
“The value of those degrees is threatened by grade inflation and that is a problem for students, employers and the universities themselves.
“These new measures will look at how we can protect our globally recognised higher education system by discouraging universities from undermining the reverence a degree qualification from the UK commands.”
Grade inflation will be one of the criteria that universities are measured on in the newly introduced Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).
The TEF rates universities as gold, silver or bronze by assessing multiple different factors of teaching and university life including student experience, teaching quality and whether courses are difficult enough.
The TEF rankings were first introduced in June 2017.
The Government is piloting a subject specific version of the rating, the Department for Education said.
TEF panellists are responsible for awarding the rating, and the new subject level ratings will take into account student feedback, drop-out rates and graduation outcomes.
A spokesman for Universities UK – the body representing higher education institutions – said it was also gathering evidence on what was behind the rise in degree outcomes.
“It is essential that students, employers and the public have confidence in the ongoing value of a UK degree and the outcome of students’ hard work,” he said.
“The sector has changed significantly in recent years, with universities putting more emphasis on the quality of teaching and investing in technology and learning support, alongside the fact that with higher fees students may be working harder to achieve higher grades.”
He added that Universities UK would also be proposing measures to tackle the practice of grade inflation and will be publishing recommendations for a consultation next month.