Academics under pressure to bump up student grades

May 18, 2015 by

Academics say teaching reforms are damaging the quality of education and making their workloads unmanageable

Almost half of academics have experienced pressure in the last three years to bump up student grades or stop students failing, according to a Guardian survey of university staff.

Some 46% of academics said they have been pressurised to mark students’ work generously, according to the survey hosted on the Guardian’s Higher Education Network, while 37% did not believe teaching was valued by their institution. Just over 60% of the 2,019 respondents to the survey were academics, while others worked in a range of positions, including finance and student support.

Many academics said recent reforms, which encourage universities to treat students as consumers and expand their intake, have damaged the quality of education offered to undergraduates. Half of the academics and university staff surveyed described their workload as unmanageable.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said the results needed to be treated with caution and might not reflect the impact of reforms alone. But he said the survey did raise the question: why aren’t the higher fees that have been in place since 2012 easing the pressures?

“Students, academics and policymakers all need much more detailed breakdowns of where tuition fees are currently going, so that we can assess whether we are achieving the best possible value for money,” he said.

When tuition fees trebled to £9,000 in 2012, ministers promised to empower students by providing more data on university performance to future applicants and placing greater emphasis on the undergraduate experience. New funding rules have also been introduced, allowing institutions in England to recruit an unlimited number of home and EU undergraduate students from September 2015.

But 52% of academics said the emphasis placed on “the student experience agenda” had damaged the quality of education offered, while 40% said the removal of the cap on student numbers had also had a negative impact. Of those academics who said the rush to recruit extra students was lowering standards, many complained of cramped facilities, a relaxing of entrance criteria, and a reduction in the amount of time academics can spend with undergraduates.

Peter Scott, professor of higher education studies at UCL Institute of Education, said that recent reforms could not be blamed for the way universities undervalue teaching, but added “there are lots of other reasons for opposing the marketisation of higher education”.

He said the reforms had “the potential to narrow the focus of teaching, and also to coarsen relations between students and their teachers. In that sense they have clearly been damaging.”

Source: Academics under pressure to bump up student grades, Guardian survey shows | Higher Education Network | The Guardian

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