Department for Education written question – answered on 5th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Non-affiliated

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the number of first class degrees awarded by the (1) University of Surrey, and (2) University of Bradford; whether they have had any discussions with those universities about the number of such degrees awarded; and if so, what were the outcomes of any such discussions.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 established a new independent regulator in England, the Office for Students (OfS). The act gives the OfS powers to assess the quality and standards applied to higher education by English providers.

The government has made it clear in guidance to the OfS that grade inflation must be tackled. In their strategy, attached, the OfS includes ensuring “qualifications hold their value over time” as a key objective. In December 2018, the OfS published analysis of changes in degree classifications between 2010-11 and 2016-17, which is attached. This includes data on the University of Surrey and the University of Bradford.

On 24 March, my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education called for universities to end the steep rise of “unjustifiable” first class degrees which is a threat to the world class reputation of the university sector, and risks undermining the efforts of hard working students. The government expects the OfS, when it has its full range of powers, to challenge those institutions that record an unjustifiable rise in the proportion of top degrees being awarded.

The OfS’ statutory powers are on course to be strengthened through new regulations due to be laid in Parliament later this year, which will allow the OfS to levy fines of up to £500,000 or 2% of a university’s income (whichever is higher). The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment is developing sector-recognised standards to ensure that all degree awards are consistent and fair - due to be completed this academic year. Together, these measures will strengthen the regulator’s ability to challenge universities with unwarranted grade inflation and hold them to account.

Any university found to be damaging students’ interests could be subject to sanctions such as placing additional conditions on their registration, fines, or in the worst case scenario removing a university’s powers to award degrees.

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