Staff at Queen Mary University of London received an email advising them that an investigation may be conducted against them if they consistently award average marks below an Upper Second (2:1) level.
The staff were instructed to abide by the “60:60:60” principle, which dictates that an average mark for an assessment should be above 60% and that at least 60% of students should be receiving a mark greater than 60%. This is not an “aspirational target for marks,” but the “minimum threshold for further investigation.” Those failing to meet this principle would have to demonstrate justification.
Queen Mary University has argued that the principle was a response to its business school’s history of underachievement in grades compared to equivalent institutions.
This inflames concerns about grade inflation as graduates attain highest classification First degrees at a rate of 26%. Only 7% of students nationally achieved a First degree according to early statistics in 1996, five years ago that rate stood at 18%.
At the LSE, 22.2% of students attained First degrees in 2011, compared to 28.9% in 2016, a rise of almost 7%.
These changes may reflect higher entry qualifications or declining popularity of part-time studies.
Graduates who miss an Upper Second grade, according to a 2013 report, earn £2,000 or 7% less annually in their first jobs on average. 75% of students in the U.K. graduated with at least an Upper Second degree last year, up from 68% five years ago.
A 2004 report criticised the LSE, finding the standards required for a First lower than the requirements at Nottingham University. LSE states its default system of grading is a double-blind marking system, wherein external examiners review work from a range of marks within a course to ensure that grading is standardized. This system has been favoured by research and the organisation Universities UK for its greater impartiality.
LSE offers no provisions for summative work to be reassessed because its approach is deemed to be “sufficiently robust.”
A 2007 report on the state of higher education featured by a management consulting company argues that the standards for First degrees have not fallen, but that the summative system in the U.K. fails to account for key student achievements in a meaningful way. The classification system originated at Oxford University over two centuries ago.
Some argue a U.S.-style Grade Point Average (G.P.A.) system would better reflect achievement than British-style classification, which leaves a dramatic gap between those earning an average of 59% and 60%.
According to the Fulbright Commission, an Upper Second grade is equivalent to a 3.7 G.P.A. The average American student maintains a 3.0 G.P.A, which is equivalent to a Lower Second.