Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents



197. Standards and quality in relation to higher education tend to be well used but often elusive and misunderstood terms. We have defined academic standards as predetermined and explicit levels of achievement which must be reached for a student to be granted a qualification. We have used academic quality as a way of describing the effectiveness of everything that is done or provided ("the learning opportunities") by individual institutions, to ensure that the students have the best possible opportunity to meet the stated outcomes of their programmes and the academic standards of the awards they are seeking.[365]


198. The question of standards ran through much of the written and oral evidence we received. There were two key issues:

  • have standards required to achieve a particular class of degree fallen over the past 20 years; and
  • whether the current arrangements for measuring and safeguarding standards are adequate, in both individual institutions and across the sector as a whole.

To our surprise, though the debate about standards could be fierce, much of the evidence was partial and incomplete, even anecdotal.

199. Our consideration of standards focussed on whether standards for first degrees had remained equivalent over time, and also whether outcomes of degree programmes from different universities were equivalent. In this context, we also considered the question of degree classification, both whether the current arrangements should be replaced and also, again, whether the classifications awarded in different universities were equivalent.

200. Universities UK explained to us that universities themselves "have the responsibility for maintaining the standards of their awards and the quality of the learning opportunities which support students to achieve against those standards".[366] Universities UK added that universities work "hard, both collectively and individually, to fulfil those responsibilities"[367] and that all "universities have systems in place to ensure that new courses meet the right standards, and that courses are regularly reviewed, by looking at evidence from students, graduates, employers and external examiners".[368]

201. When pressed on standards, Universities UK told us that universities had a "really strong stake in maintaining our standards, our good processes, and our reputation for having them". It stated that what mattered "to a significant degree" was "in terms of our ability to retain interest from students applying from around the world, but it is also a crucial bit of our responsibility to our home students.[369] Professor Arthur, Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University, echoed this point in oral evidence: "there is no wholesale problem with the standards in British Higher Education […b]ecause we have an internationally successful highly competitive higher education system that is the envy of the world that other people are copying and multiple international students wish to come here."[370] We have not examined the position of international students but we are uneasy about the conclusion that part of the sector appears to draw from the attraction of English universities to international students as evidence that standards are being maintained and are largely unproblematic. While we consider it likely that standards and quality are part of the attraction of the higher education sector in England to international students, other factors, such as the vigorous marketing undertaken by universities, and the fact that England is an Anglophone country, together with the relative current weakness of sterling, may also have an effect. We conclude that it is simplistic and unsatisfactory for higher education institutions to be seen to rely on the fact that international students continue to apply as evidence that standards are being maintained. It is absurd and disreputable to justify academic standards with a market mechanism.


202. We begin this chapter with the views of employers on standards and quality. The employers' representatives, from whom we took oral evidence, were complimentary about the higher education sector, though some of those who gave written evidence had concerns—for example, the Institution of Engineering and Technology said that "a sizeable proportion of today's students appear to have problems of poor motivation and a less than ideal approach to learning".[371] But Mike Harris from the Institute of Directors (IoD) said that his members were "genuinely upbeat about the quality of education delivered by universities".[372] Where those who gave oral evidence did, however, perceive problems was "right throughout the education system, beginning in schools and also in further education colleges, so that when you get your ultimate employee there are particular skills weaknesses".[373] Mr Harris explained that his members were looking for "employability" in graduates.[374] He defined this as a:

    mixture of basic skills, personal qualities, good attitude, genuine employment skills, meeting deadlines, being reliable, and personal qualities. That really means, aside from the technical skills and the academic knowledge […] it is getting on with people, it is being flexible and it is being reliable. That is what we have found to be valued above all other things when our members are recruiting graduates. It is that emphasis on employability and fitting into the workplace. The technical skills and the technical knowledge acquired through a degree have a much lower profile when they are recruiting. In terms of the message for what to do, I would focus on work experience, getting greater exposure to the workplace, even bringing your professional skills to bear in a work setting. That is what employers are using to distinguish between some very able candidates.[375]

203. We have not in this inquiry examined the effectiveness of the curriculum on offer in higher education over the longer term. For the most part the students who gave evidence were, by our invitation, undergraduates currently at university with no previous experience of higher education, although a few mature students had previously taken degrees. While employers were broadly content with the operation of the system for the immediate future this may not hold for the longer term. The question of whether higher education offers graduates a suitable preparation both lifelong and lifewide in a changing world (see paragraph 7) is another matter, which our successor committee with responsibility for scrutinising higher education may wish to examine.


204. The views of students contrasted with those of employers. Their prevalent view[376] was that the current degree classification did not provide a satisfactory method of measuring the work done or a satisfactory basis for comparing degrees between universities, and even between subjects at the same university. Sally Tye, a student, drew attention to the contrast between school where "you are measured against your peer group [where] A-levels are across the board" and said that "it seems strange that universities are on a different measurement and I think for your own personal sense of how well you are doing."[377] Victoria Edwards, a mature student, made the point that many with family responsibilities did not have the option of applying to a prestigious university:

    anybody in my situation, if they are living in Newcastle or Stockport or wherever it is, and they have got their family there and children in schools there, you do not have a choice about which university you apply to, so you need to know that your 2:1 from that university is going to be exactly the same as far as employers are concerned. There are lots of reasons why people choose their university and sometimes you do not have a choice. If I had not got a place at Oxford Brookes I would not have gone on the course because there is nowhere else I could have commuted to.[378]

For several there were concerns that employers had preconceptions that favoured degrees from certain universities. Ricky Chotai, studying business management at Salford, explained that his "degree isn't just as worthy as a business management degree from the University of Manchester. Employers […] immediately pick up on that and if I managed to get a first class [or ] 2:1 against one of those students I think my application would be further down the list."[379]

205. In the e-consultation several students commented on whether an upper second honours degree in two different subjects within the same university could be of different value. One pointed out that it was possible to have a well respected department within a poorly performing university and that in media coverage of the league tables caveats were rarely added that certain departments were outstanding. Another took a different view: "based on Cambridge, [honours] degrees classes was roughly equivalent within an institution. The range of marks varied between subjects, but the proportion of students getting a 2:i wasn't […] hugely different. Given that the entry criteria were also broadly similar for each course, the degrees are probably roughly equivalent in value".[380] We examine comparability of standards at paragraph 250 and following.

Quality Assurance Agency

206. The cornerstone of what is in effect a system of self-regulation by individual institutions is the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). The QAA, established in 1997, is a charity and a company limited by guarantee, governed by a Board and managed by an Executive Committee. It is funded through subscriptions from higher education institutions and through contracts with the major funding councils, to whom it reports annually on its activities.[381] The QAA employs 125 members of staff and uses over 550 reviewers to undertake audits (drawn predominantly from working academic practitioners in higher education institutions). It has an annual turnover of £11 million.[382]

207. Universities UK explained that the QAA conducted regular visits to universities to scrutinise quality and that QAA reports were publicly available and included judgements about the confidence that could be placed in universities' management of quality and standards.[383] But the QAA is not the higher education equivalent of Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills), which inspects education for those under 19 and the further education sector.[384] The QAA's purpose, in its own words, is "to safeguard the public interest in sound standards of higher education qualifications and to inform and encourage continuous improvement in the management of the quality of higher education".[385] The QAA pointed out in its written evidence to the Committee that:

    The primary responsibility for academic standards and quality rests with individual institutions. QAA reviews and reports on how well they meet those responsibilities, identifies good practice and makes recommendations for improvement.

    We visit institutions to conduct our audits, make judgements and publish reports, but we are not an inspectorate or a regulator and do not have statutory powers. We aim to ensure that institutions have effective processes in place to secure their academic standards, but we do not judge the standards themselves.[386]

One main aspect of the QAA's work is institutional reviews, which are reviews and audits of the academic performance of institutions. We noted that the QAA used to carry out reviews of individual subjects but that it has discontinued this process.

208. We agree with the QAA that it is in the public interest that there are sound standards of higher education qualifications. The public purse supports higher education to the tune of £15 billion and it is essential those studying at higher education institutions are awarded degrees that measure accurately and consistently the intellectual development and skills that students have achieved. We consider that it is essential that a body concerns itself with assuring the comparability of standards both between institutions and over time.


209. The heads of higher education institutions that had been subject to QAA audits stressed the strength of the QAA's processes. Professor Trainor, President of Universities UK and Principal of King's College London, said that any institution coming up to a periodic institutional audit by the QAA—and his was then preparing for one in January 2009—did "not think that the QAA lacks teeth".[387] He saw the QAA as "having a great deal of independence" and a body that was "above any ability of an individual institution to influence what is going on".[388] He saw the QAA in combination with each higher education institution as policing "standards and processes in UK higher education".[389] Representatives from the higher education sector also made the point that the current arrangements as well as safeguarding standards also led to improvement. Professor Driscoll, Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, had been subject to a recent institutional audit by the QAA and said that "enhancement was very much part of their review".[390] We are not surprised that those from institutions that the QAA has on whole found to be working well have commended the QAA.

210. The operation of the QAA, however, also came in for criticism. Professor Geoffrey Alderman considered that:

    the QAA […] should be refocused to concentrate squarely on standards. At the moment it concentrates on process. It is possible to come out of the QAA with a glowing report but in fact have poor standards.[391]

Others submitting written evidence echoed Professor Alderman's criticism:

    HEFCE/QAA etc. concern themselves merely with the written documentation of the courses[…] Each department or faculty assesses the "quality" of its own course, but this assessment is usually merely an examination of the course documentation. There is no genuine external scrutiny. This self-regulation is remarkably similar to that performed by the Financial Services Authority, and we are all now aware of the ineffectiveness of this type of "regulation".[392]

    [T]he QAA thinks in terms of "course delivery" and "course providers" rather than disciplines and teachers. Its notion of how to square academic freedom with quality assurance is to avoid making any judgment about the content of courses—which allows Oxford to teach theology and Westminster complementary medicine—but to insist on a particular form of bureaucratic packaging; this means that a higher value is put on it being absolutely clear and predictable what a student will be told than is put on waking up their minds and seeing how far they can go if they are stretched.[393]

In oral evidence Dr Fenton, an academic, said that in her experience the QAA was "another bureaucratic, administrative burden that you learn to play the game of" and that "You do it very well, you show the processes are there, but it does not actually command the respect of the academics delivering the teaching on the ground".[394]

211. A number of those submitting written evidence made the point that before the 1992 reorganisation of higher education, there had been a body, the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA),[395] which was "a version of Ofqual for universities".[396] Professor Ryan, an academic, explained:

    The non-old-fashioned sector gave CNAA-validated degrees and nobody in the CNAA believed that there was anything very clever to be said about whether a CNAA degree in history was more or less demanding than a CNAA degree in sociology or whatever. What was true was that you could not put on a degree course without getting it past the CNAA, it did look at the syllabuses, it looked at your teaching resources and the external examiners came from the CNAA and what they had going for them was they would have been deeply humiliated to validate and approve of courses that other people later thought were not up to scratch. It is not so to speak, therefore, an impossible state of affairs; to my mind the CNAA was much more like the right animal than the QAA.[397]

212. We put the criticisms about the focus on process to Peter Williams, Chief Executive of the QAA, who replied that process and outcomes were "very strongly linked".[398] He pointed out that "because teachers plan their teaching, then students will learn. Because students are guided in their learning, they will learn. It is that careful, systematic approach which is important and it is even more important given the size of the system."[399] Following media coverage and with our encouragement, Mr Williams explained that the QAA had carried out an analysis of the critical media stories relating to standards in the last year and he was "coming to the conclusion that there are some areas where there is probably something which requires more systematic investigation than we have been able to give it so far".[400] He added that as the cases investigated under the "causes for concern" process were concerned, the QAA had found the vast majority were in the first instance either personal complaints or grievances or, in the case of staff, post-dismissal or cases where they had been to an employment tribunal; in other words they were personal cases. He considered, however, that it was "also fair to say that it is sometimes quite difficult to discover whether the personal case is masking a systemic problem or is just a one-off administrative failure" and that was

    where we are needing to do more work on individual cases, some of which remain open because we are not satisfied that this thing is simply a personal grievance and we want to come back and look at them, but we cannot do that while the cases are open.[401]

213. Under the arrangements operated by the QAA, "a cause for concern" is defined as "any policy, procedure or action implemented, or omitted, by a higher or further education institution in England, which appears likely to jeopardise the institution's capacity to assure the academic standards and quality of any of its HE programmes and/or awards".[402] The power to declare a possible cause for concern is limited to a group of named organisations, principally statutory, regulatory, and some professional bodies.[403] Any response by the QAA to a request from one of those organisations to investigate an apparent difficulty is "phased and proportionate", beginning with an informal enquiry and only progressing to a full investigation where this is considered to be necessary in the light of evidence gathered.[404]

214. Following Mr Williams' oral evidence, the QAA supplied a supplementary memorandum[405] providing additional information. It pointed out that:

    Since 2002 we have interviewed more than 10,000 students and a similar number of staff in [higher education institutions], to discover whether their institutions' views of themselves and the way they assure their own standards stand up to scrutiny. This contrasts markedly with the handful of individual complainants who have written to us since last summer and with the equally small number who have responded to your Committee's invitation to make submissions. Every audit has led to both commendations for good practice and recommendations for action, categorised as being either 'essential', 'advisable', or 'desirable', and these are almost invariably accepted and acted upon.[406]

In supporting material provided "by way of illustration of our effectiveness" the QAA described "the specific responses and actions from those institutions that received judgements of 'no confidence' and 'limited confidence' in their institutional audits between 2003 and 2007."[407]

215. In April 2009 the QAA published its final report on its "thematic enquiries into concerns about academic quality and standards in higher education".[408] The report comprised a commentary on the five areas of interest identified from articles and comments made in the media over the summer of 2008:

  • student workload and contact hours;
  • language requirements for the acceptance of international students;
  • recruitment and admission practices for international students;
  • use of external examiners; and
  • assessment practices, including institutions' arrangements for setting the academic standards of their awards.[409]

216. We have noted the QAA's recommendations on each of these five areas. This Report is not the vehicle to examine them in detail but we consider that they are useful—for example, on student workload and contact hours that "provision by institutions of readily available and clear information about the nature and amount of contact students may expect with staff in respect of individual study programmes, and the expectations that the institutions have of students as independent learners" was required[410]—chimes with many of conclusions in this Report, though in some cases we would go further than the QAA.[411] In our view, it is matter of some regret—and a symptom of complacency—that it was only after pressure from outside the higher education sector, that is, the media, ministers and us that it appears that the QAA used the "cause for concern" process to examine more generally institutions' capacity to assure the academic standards and quality of their higher education programmes and awards. We consider that the QAA needs to make up for lost time and develop its expertise in this area. In addition, we consider that the Government and higher education institutions must find the resources to support this endeavour.

217. We also raised the role and operation of the QAA with John Denham. While he considered that the "work of QAA in general shows that we do not have a systemic problem with quality and standards in the system", he identified three areas which "we need to look at"[412] and which he had discussed with both HEFCE and the QAA:

    The first is that the system is not very good at closing down those sorts of issues, stories and allegations that were brought before [the] Committee. We are not good enough at getting in with the individual institutions and actually having an outcome where we can say we managed to sort it out.

    The second thing is that it is not clear enough that essentially one body—I think it should be the QAA—has the lead responsibility for communicating to the public both here and indeed internationally the real story about the quality of higher education. I think QAA essentially services the higher education sector; the information is there but there is no obvious responsibility on anybody for communicating that effectively and for recognising how damaging it can be if an allegation—albeit a completely unsubstantiated allegation—is allowed to run for ages.

    The third thing is that there are some persistent issues that come up from time to time, external examiners being one, where I think it is useful to have a body that looks at that and says (as I think the QAA will do), "This is pretty much okay, but here are some ways that people could do it better; here's some good practice to handle it better". I think if the QAA were better able to make sure that the allegations that are made are sorted out, that they had a clearer responsibility for communicating quality and standards issues for the broader public and […] they do show proactively that if there are certain types of issues that keep coming up they have a look at them, then we could move forward.[413]

218. Although we found the former Secretary of State's response constructive, we would wish to question the role he appeared to envisage for the QAA. While accepting that the QAA had a role in investigating and safeguarding quality in both the sector and in individual institutions, he appeared to see it also as having some of the characteristics of a public relations body charged with improving communications with the public in this country and abroad and in closing down stories. In our view a body with responsibilities for standards which has as its primary function promoting UK higher education would be misconceived and likely to undermine faith in the quality of higher education.

219. We accept that quality needs to be underpinned with sound processes and, indeed, also the converse that deficient or chaotic processes will undermine quality. But we do not accept that sound processes necessarily denote high quality. That is the trap that many bureaucracies and those that run them fall into. That said, in response to concerns which DIUS, HEFCE, the media and we raised, we have found that the QAA has shown itself willing to, and capable of, investigating standards and concerns about quality in higher education. We consider that in not judging "the standards themselves", the QAA is taking an unduly limited view of its potential role.

220. In our view the most effective way to safeguard standards and serve the public interest is to make the body responsible for supervising and reporting on standards more independent both from government and from the higher education institutions that currently subscribe to it. If we were designing a new system we would not recommend the current arrangements with the QAA reporting on processes and leaving standards to individual higher education institutions. In our view, there is a justifiable case for recommending the abolition of the QAA and starting afresh with a new body. We are, however, concerned that the inevitable hiatus, disruption and costs caused by the abolition of the QAA and the establishment of a new body would not serve the best interests of students, universities and the taxpayer. We have concluded that, on balance, the QAA, rather than be abolished, should be reformed and re-established as a Quality and Standards Agency—possibly by Royal Charter (which was the arrangement used to set up the former Council for National Academic Awards)—with the responsibility for maintaining consistent, national standards in higher education institutions in England and for monitoring and reporting on standards. We also recommend that the remit of the new body include—if necessary, on the basis of statute—a duty to safeguard, and report on, standards in higher education in England. It should also report annually on standards to Parliament. We further recommend that, to ensure its independence, the funding of the Agency's activities in England be provided through a mechanism requiring half its funding to be provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and half from levies on higher education institutions in England. In making these recommendations we are looking to see a fundamental change in the operation of the QAA and that, if this cannot be achieved within two years, the QAA/Quality and Standards Agency should be abolished and an entirely new organisation be established in its place.

Variations in demands made of students

221. Drawing on reports published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI)[414] we pointed out on several occasions to Vice-Chancellors that it appeared that the study time—which includes lectures, tutorials and private study—for students working towards degrees in similar subjects varied significantly.[415] We were disappointed by the responses. Professor Driscoll, Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex, was forceful, though not untypical, in his response:

    A couple of things to say about the HEPI studies. The ones that were carried out in 2006-07 surveyed 15,000 students. This latest update surveyed 2000 students; the report does not even say how many responded. It is a woefully small sample and I do not think that any statistician would stand by those results. The other thing that disturbs me more seriously about the conclusions of those HEPI reports is that they take one statistic—that is formal contact hours—and extrapolate some extraordinary statements about effort and the work that students do. I think it is quite unreasonable. […] what is important is not just the contact hours, it is the quality of those hours, and it is everything else that goes into that. My institution—and I am sure this is true of most institutions across the sector—produces course handbooks and in those course handbooks it describes the contact, the nature of the contact, the number of assignments they will have to do and the nature of the assessment, and it provides all the other information around the reading lists.[416]

222. It is not our job to evaluate the work of HEPI but we were concerned by the responses of the Vice-Chancellors, not just Professor Driscoll, when pressed on the apparent disparity in the levels of effort required in different universities to obtain degrees in similar subjects. First, they raised methodological questions. If the HEPI studies are as unreliable as some of the leaders of the sector appear to contend, they should commission and publish their own study but they have not sought to do so. As Professor Brown, former Vice-Chancellor of Southampton Solent, pointed out, the HEPI studies "were done because of no other work being done".[417] We consider that the fact that the higher education sector does not appear to have assembled its own evidence undermines the Vice-Chancellors' arguments. Second, the Vice-Chancellors' answers concentrated on contact time between staff and students. Yet the HEPI studies are explicit that they are examining total study time which is broader than contact time.[418] We conclude that it appears that different levels of effort are required in different universities to obtain degrees in similar subjects, which may suggest that different standards may be being applied. Furthermore, the HEPI studies' consistent message is that more research is necessary in this vital area of student contact, and we conclude that those responsible for standards in higher education (both institutions and the sector level bodies) should ensure that such research is carried out.

223. Professor Brown also commented that the notion that "British students who go to university seem to study less intensively than continental students has been validated by a number of independent surveys, so that aspect of the HEPI survey […] is right".[419] The Centre for Higher Education Research and Information (CHERI), in commenting on the quality of teaching provision in UK higher education, also noted the results of international comparisons and suggested that, while the quality of teaching appeared to be relatively high within UK universities, "the level of demands made on learners and the achievements of those learners may be relatively low".[420] CHERI's general conclusions were that:

    there is some evidence to suggest that the educational experience of higher education students in the UK is in some respects somewhat less than "world class" when compared with its counterparts elsewhere in Europe. With the Bologna process of harmonisation between different higher education systems, differences may become increasingly visible. […] this may shatter some myths and any complacency about the superiority of UK higher education. [We] recommend to Government and HEFCE that further attention be given to the growing amount of research evidence on the differences (and similarities) between the higher education experiences provided by different national systems.[421]

In April 2009, HEFCE published "Diversity in the student learning experience and time devoted to study: a comparative analysis of the UK and European evidence", a report to HEFCE by CHERI. The study found that:

    When looking at students' workload overall (i.e. lectures, classes and all forms of study) two separate studies […] both found that students in the UK spent an average of about 30 hours a week on studying, the least amount of time compared to their counterparts in other European countries. […] The results of these studies support the conclusions of the HEPI report and add to the body of evidence that UK students commit fewer hours to study than students in other European countries.[422]

We add that in our discussions with students during our visit to the USA they claimed to spend up to 60 hours a week studying, that is in lectures, tutorials and private study.

224. The findings of CHERI and HEPI reports indicate that students in England may spend considerably less time studying than their counterparts in Europe or the USA. This is a potentially serious finding in view of the fact that degrees in this country are also often shorter than those overseas taking into account variations in student/staff ratios in classes compared with the UK and methods of teaching, three years compared with four. We recommend that the Government investigate and establish whether students in England spend significantly less time studying, which includes lectures, contact time with academic staff and private study, than their counterparts overseas and that, if this proves to be the case, establish what effect this has on the standards of degrees awarded by the higher education sector in England.

Assessment of teaching quality

225. When we took evidence at Liverpool Hope University, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pillay, was of the view that there had been an "over-emphasis […] on management of quality rather than enhancing quality".[423] Looking to the future he said that the QAA would have to consider:

    whether we have the same rigour in our teaching quality measurement as we have about research at the moment. Nothing […] is assessing teaching quality. Nothing is assessing yet the quality of scholarship. I do not just mean research outputs, because that is only part of what a university does. Something is going missing but I think these are the challenges and questions we raise for the future. […] I think more responsibility must be given to the university to actually show why it maintains and enhances quality, with the emphasis now on teaching quality not just on research quality.[424]

226. We found Professor Pillay's analysis compelling. We have indicated in the previous chapter that the higher education sector needs to adopt a strategy to improve teaching and lecturer training and development and we identified two elements: professional development and universities themselves identifying and addressing poor teaching. The third element in the strategy we consider has to be supplied by an external body, a reformed QAA charged with the responsibility of monitoring, and reporting on, teaching standards, which, in our view, will act as a stimulus to improvement in teaching standards. We conclude that the reformed QAA's new remit should include the review of, and reporting, on the quality of teaching in universities and, where shortcomings are identified, ensuring that they are reported publicly and addressed by the institution concerned. We also conclude that the QAA should develop its current policy of giving greater attention to institutions' policies and procedures in relation to improving quality and that the QAA should produce more guidance and feedback based on its institutional reviews.

Institutional accreditation

227. In order to be able to award a recognised higher education degree in the UK, an organisation needs to be authorised to do so either by Royal Charter or Act of Parliament. Section 76 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 empowers the Privy Council to specify institutions of higher education as competent to grant awards, in other words to grant them powers to award their own degrees. In considering applications for such powers, the Privy Council seeks advice from the appropriate territorial minister with higher education responsibilities. In turn, the minister seeks advice from the appropriate agency.[425] In England this was DIUS (now BIS) and the QAA respectively.[426] In advising on applications, the QAA is guided by criteria and the associated evidence requirements. The QAA's work is overseen by its Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers, a sub-committee of its Board.[427]

228. Professor Baker from GuildHE explained the QAA's assessment of institutions seeking the power to award degrees:

    My own institution went through the taught degree-awarding powers assessment some three years ago, and it was a two-and-a-half-year process. Believe me, it was not easy. So I think that the QAA does have teeth; it does look very long and hard at institutions, and their quality assurance processes in particular. It does not give away the confidence vote or the taught degree-awarding powers award lightly.[428]

229. Once granted, degree awarding powers are held in perpetuity. We observe that, since the 12th century, it has been the pattern that once founded, a university was a significant national asset which was expected to endure for centuries. In the 21st century, however, we now have a diverse higher education sector in England with 133 higher education institutions. It is increasingly questionable whether we should adhere rigidly to this medieval approach to the status of universities and we see risks that it could breed complacency and become, for example, a barrier to closing an institution that deserved to have its powers removed. When, however, we suggested to Universities UK, the 1994 Group, Million+ and the Russell Group that institutional accreditation might be reviewed periodically, they unanimously rejected the idea.[429] Professor Trainor from Universities UK considered that a system that reviewed accreditation did not have "any more teeth than the [current] institutional audit system […] because de facto, periodically, getting a good result from the institutional audit is prerequisite for the university carrying on with its reputation in good order".[430] We were not convinced. When we were in the USA we were told that all higher education institutions had their accreditation to award degrees reviewed periodically. We cannot see why universities in England need to be excluded from a review of powers to award degrees, especially as the number, range and diversity of universities increase and include a number of private, commercial providers. It could be carried out as part of a broadened institutional review by the reformed QAA, which examined not only process but also the quality of courses and standards, and it would add discipline to the process if—in admittedly extreme cases—an institution's degree awarding powers could be revoked or curtailed. We recommend that all higher education institutions in England have their accreditation to award degrees reviewed no less often than every 10 years by the reformed QAA. Where the Agency concludes that all or some of an institution's powers should be withdrawn, we recommend that the Government draw up and put in place arrangements which would allow accreditation to award degrees to be withdrawn or curtailed by the Agency.

230. As we have explained we envisage that the review of degree awarding powers could be part of the periodic institutional review. There may, exceptionally, be a need to review these powers in the period between institutional reviews. In our view, there needs to be a trigger for an exceptional review. We recommend that the reformed QAA have powers to carry out reviews of the quality of, and standards applied in, the assessment arrangements for an institution's courses, including, if necessary, its degree awarding powers, in response to external examiners' or public concerns about the standards in an institution or at the direction of the Secretary of State.


231. We received a small number of submissions from academics alleging that their attempts to raise concerns about standards in their institutions had been suppressed by their university authorities.[431] As the focus of our inquiry was the experience of students and because a select committee is not generally an appropriate or effective forum for the pursuit of what are individual circumstances, we decided not to investigate each of these cases. We did wish to establish, however, whether these cases were prima facie evidence of a systematic failure within the higher education sector. In its written evidence the University and College Union (UCU) told us that it received "occasional reports from members about pressure to admit or to pass students, or to approve new programmes, against their academic judgement".[432] UCU explained that institutions were also under pressure in the "higher education marketplace" not to disclose concerns about their own standards.[433] An academic, Dr Dearden, said in a written submission that academic standards had been compromised by amongst other factors, "management pressure on academic staff to 'fully utilise the range of marks' and, in the extreme case, the threat of loss of teaching leading to staff priming students on exam content" and he said that much of the compromise in standards was impossible to identify through formal monitoring procedures.[434]

232. The oral evidence we received from some academics seemed to confirm this picture. Dr Fenton told us that staff who were vulnerable, especially younger members or newer members to the profession, who had "not got as much clout, standing or protection within the institution[, were] very nervous about speaking out, or recommending that certain students should not be getting certain grades".[435] Another academic, Dr Reid, in giving oral evidence, explained that:

    There is no doubt there is nothing an institution values more closely than its external reputation, and they are very protective of that. I know people certainly feel as though they cannot speak out; they cannot even speak out in their own department's staff meetings, never mind to colleagues from The Times Higher who may be interested.[436]

233. When it gave oral evidence UCU was, understandably, reluctant to cite specific cases of bullying[437] but it indicated that "our colleagues certainly are telling us it is getting worse".[438] We pressed for general information[439] and in a supplementary memorandum UCU drew attention to a press release it had issued on 6 November 2008 on bullying at work.[440] The release goes wider than bullying over standards. It related to individual academics' capacity to "speak out" with regard to areas of research that were prioritised, the university's reputation and more general questioning of management policy. The release said that a survey of 9,700 members working in higher education revealed that 6.7% of members said they were "always" or "often" bullied at work and 16.7% said "sometimes". Only half (51%) said they had "never" been bullied at work.[441]

234. In its original memorandum the UCU stated that the "Whistleblowing procedures and the academic freedom protections" in the 1988 Education Reform Act had "proved to be inadequate in protecting academic whistleblowers".[442] We noted one instance where this appeared to be a problem. This was where an academic who had raised concerns about standards then left a higher education institution after signing a confidentiality agreement.[443] It appears that the whistle-blowing procedures in the 1988 Act would not give protection from action by the institution for breach of contract to an academic seeking to raise concerns about standards at the higher education institution. We make no comment about the merits of the case raised with us but it does highlight a wider concern about the system: confidentiality agreements preventing the operation of the whistle-blowing provisions in the 1988 Act where the whistle-blower has concerns about standards may not be the public interest.

235. It appears to us that the current protections within the sector and the internal arrangements of some higher education institutions may not provide sufficient protection to whistle-blowers raising, in good faith, potentially serious concerns about standards at higher education institutions. The pressures within the system to protect the reputation of the institution are so strong that they risk not only sweeping problems under the mat but isolating and ostracising unjustly those raising legitimate concerns. It is not acceptable that the only avenue available to some of those who considered themselves aggrieved was to raise their concerns through the immunity provided by us as a select committee of the House of Commons when we accepted their representations as evidence. We see grounds for concluding that the system for reviewing the concerns of academics about standards needs to be rebalanced to provide greater protection for those raising concerns alongside a clear move to independent and external review. Our initial view is that such a service which provides, for example, independent arbitration and adjudication might be the responsibility of a reformed QAA. We also recommend that Government bring forward legislation to strengthen the whistle-blowing procedures in the 1988 Education Reform Act to provide greater protection to academics. We are reluctant to go further and to reach firm conclusions without carrying out a more detailed inquiry into adequacy of the protection for whistle-blowers within higher education—and this is an issue that a successor committee with responsibility for scrutinising higher education may wish to return to—but on the basis of the evidence from individual academics and the UCU we consider that there could be a systematic problem here.


236. There was one case concerning an allegation about standards where we became involved. This concerned Walter Cairns, Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, who submitted written evidence to our inquiry which was critical of the University's marking processes and he told us that, as a consequence, he was removed from the Academic Board of the University—see chapter 6. The case does raise a point of general application and relevance to this chapter. The case of Mr Cairns, the details of which we set out in chapter 6 of this Report, reinforces our uneasiness about the adequacy of the internal systems within higher education institutions to resolve disputes involving those who raise concerns about standards. In our view, the ability of an academic to appeal to an external, independent body would provide a safety-value for potentially explosive disputes. At a late stage in our inquiry, a second academic from Manchester Metropolitan University, Susan Evans, made a complaint about the University's response to her evidence. We also deal with her representations at chapter 6.

The autonomy of higher education institutions

237. The question of standards in the higher education sector highlighted the issue of autonomy of higher education institutions, which arose at several points during this inquiry. Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, described higher education institutions as "private bodies serving public functions".[444] To avoid any confusion we must make it clear that we have not examined in this inquiry academic freedom, which is held to be central to the role of universities as institutions and their academic staff as individuals in advancing knowledge and critical education, and is often defined as the "right of each individual member of the faculty of an institution to enjoy the freedom to study, to inquire, to speak his mind, to communicate his ideas, and to assert the truth as he sees it".[445] Nor are we questioning what the Robbins Report called the individual freedom[446] of the academic, though on occasion, as we noted in the evidence from the UCU, there was a potential for tension between an individual's academic freedom to comment on standards and the actions of university management. Our main difficulty was understanding the extent and range of the autonomy that higher education institutions have—what the Robbins Report called "institutional freedom".[447] We found ourselves drawing some comparison with the operation of the so-called Haldane Principle, which has featured in our inquiries into the allocation of resources for scientific research.[448] The Haldane Principle is taken to hold that the scientific research councils (and universities) should choose which research to support on scientific criteria at "arms length" from the Government and political considerations. The most striking parallel was that, while all parties supported the principle of autonomy and had a general idea what it meant, its detailed operation was far from clear.

238. It is instructive to start with the 1963 Robbins Report which saw institutional freedom as encompassing (with in some cases a limited role for government) appointments, curricula and standards, admission of students, the balance between teaching and research, freedom of development and salaries and staffing ratios.[449] When we asked Dr Hood, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, what autonomy Oxford had, his answer showed that the institutional freedom of the 1960s had reduced. He replied:

    We have autonomy and we protect our autonomy in the sense of academic freedom but we do not have autonomy in the sense that we are unregulated, that we are in a non-compliant regime, for example, where we set our own regulatory framework, our own compliance norms, quite the contrary. The Government's funding, be it teaching funding or research funding or funding for various outreach purposes or for tech transfer purposes comes with very prescriptive conditions attaching to it and very strong audit and other related requirements.[450]

239. We asked John Denham about the extent to which he was able to direct the higher education sector given the dependence of the sector on government for financial support. He took the example of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR), which we examine at paragraph 261 and following. He explained that it "would not have happened without ministers saying to the sector that there is an issue here and we have to grasp it. That is seen as a product of the sector and the HEAR Report is being accepted around the sector because it is owned by them."[451] In our view, this approach is to be commended but we have reservations that it may come under pressure—and the pattern since the 1960s shows a growing role for government in "institutional" matters in higher education institutions—and we consider that a clearer arrangement is needed in the 21st century.

240. It is worth noting that the Government did not adopt the approach based on the dialogue Mr Denham outlined to us when, last year, it withdrew resources for those undertaking equivalent or lower qualifications (ELQs) with the result that their fees increased. Instead, it withdrew the funding by means of a directive issued to HEFCE.[452] As well as the constraints Dr Hood described, we would add that, from our experience in this inquiry, there is also within universities the constraint of managerialism as managers align the work of their staff to their strategic goals. As the financial effects of the recession build we would expect the pressures on universities from government above and within institutions to increase.

241. The lack of clarity about institutional autonomy in the higher education sector also makes it difficult to see where responsibility for delivering government policy lies when matters do not work out as planned. For example, in the case of widening participation, which we examined at chapter 2, we were told by the sector that they were "doing somersaults, metaphorically speaking, to try to encourage applications from a broader spectrum"[453] and that many of the levers to widen participation were not, as we have noted, within their grasp but arose from schooling and family circumstances.[454] On the other hand, when Oxford and Cambridge recently fell short of their benchmarks for students from state schools, the former Secretary of State said that the figures showed that there were "wide variations between the performance of different institutions against their benchmarks in […] widening participation[...] We need to explain why this is if we are to make further progress which is why I am writing to HEFCE today to explore what further action we can take and what part the QAA could play in creating greater visibility and a better understanding […] variations between institutions".[455]

242. We consider that both the higher education sector—academics, managers and students—and government would benefit if the roles and responsibilities of each were set out in a concordat. We do not envisage a detailed legal document but an agreed set of principles governing the relationship between the government and the sector. We recommend that the Government request HEFCE, the higher education sector and student bodies to draw up, and seek to agree, a concordat defining those areas over which universities have autonomy, including a definition of academic freedom and, on the other side, those areas where the Government, acting on behalf of the taxpayer, can reasonably and legitimately lay down requirements or intervene. Drawing on the issues raised across this inquiry we set out in chapter 7 some matters which we suggest could be included in a concordat.

Degree classification


243. The table below sets out first degrees awarded by UK higher education institutions by class of degree. The figures for 1997-98 to 2007-08 were supplied by DIUS and are taken from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) student record which is collected annually.[456] Because HESA has also published figures from 1994-95 we have added these to the sequence in italics, though they are not recorded on the same basis as the later figures.

Table 5: Degrees by class awarded by UK higher education institution

244. Professor Yorke, in a paper he supplied with his written evidence, identified the "good honours degree" as an upper second or a first class honours degree which was "often taken as a yardstick of success, in that it opens doors to careers and other opportunities that would generally remain closed to graduates with lower classes of honours" that is lower second and third class honours.[457] Professor Yorke has analysed the detailed data behind the figures in the table above. He commented that:

    The analyses [in his paper] for the period 1994-2002 showed that the percentage of "good honours degrees" […] tended to rise in almost all subject areas. When the award data were disaggregated by institutional type, the rises were most apparent in the elite "Russell Group" universities.

    Similar analyses for the period 2002-2007 showed that there was still a general tendency for the percentage of "good honours degrees" to rise, but that the strongest rises were scattered more evenly throughout institutional types.[458]

245. We put on record our thanks to Professor Yorke and also to Professor Longden for the interest that they have taken in our inquiry and their diligence in supplying statistical information and analyses. Professor Yorke suggested a number of possible reasons for the changes he observed.

    Amongst those likely to influence an upward movement in classifications were:
  • Improvements in teaching
  • Greater student diligence
  • Curricula being expressed in terms of specific learning outcomes which gave students a clear indication of what they need to achieve
  • Students being 'strategic' about curricular choices
  • Developments in assessment methods.

    Changes in the way that classifications were determined:
  • The significance for institutions of 'league tables'.

    Classifications may be influenced downwards by:
  • Student part-time employment
  • The distraction from teaching of other demands on academics' time.

    The following might also be influential, but it was unclear what their effects might be:
  • Changes in institutions' student entry profiles
  • Changes in the portfolios of subjects offered by institutions.[459]

246. Several academics stated that standards had, or were, declining.

    [A] typical degree awarded in the Arts & Humanities (I cannot speak for other areas) is worth less than its equivalent of even five years ago, and certainly less than ten or twenty years ago. This is despite the proliferation of quality controls, some aspects of which, I believe, contribute to declining standards.[460]

    Despite educating more students, who are less well selected, and with resources stretched more thinly, increasing numbers of university students obtain a 2:1 or a 1st class degree. This indicates an obvious decline in standards. […] For my final year course I have received essays that were almost impossible to follow, largely empty of content, a regurgitation of lecture notes or basic textbooks and factually incorrect. I routinely awarded these essays low grades but have been brought under pressure, internally and externally, to provide higher grades.[461]

    To those of us who have been involved in the assessment of law subjects taught at the level of higher education, it is obvious that standards have dropped substantially. […]This is not only the case, as is generally believed, because of the incidence of course work and of "seen" examination papers. It also has to do with the manner in which the various assessed elements—whether in the form of examinations, tests, essays and other items of coursework—are evaluated and marked. More particularly it relates to a tacit understanding amongst university staff that assessment levels and methods shall be geared mainly, if not exclusively, to the need to retain as many students as possible for the subsequent years and for graduation.[462]

We also found of interest the comment of a mature student who, having obtained a degree in engineering 25 years earlier, returned to university to obtain an MSc in Biological Sciences and so was studying alongside students who had come through the system a generation later. He said that "much of what I had learnt at school now had to be taught at University, inevitably pushing out other material that would otherwise have been taught".[463]

247. With a few exceptions such as the Quality Strategy Network,[464] we found that representatives from the sector were not inclined to engage in a detailed examination of the trend Professor Yorke observed. Professor Trainor from Universities UK, while acknowledging that there had been "a lot of talk and publicity on this in the last six months or so, about degree classification, and so on", noted that "the patterns of degree classification have not changed all that much over the last ten years—only a six per cent rise in the percentage of Firsts and 2.1s".[465] John Denham appeared to make a similar point:

    The proportion of graduates who were awarded a first went from 8.1% to 13.3%; upper seconds increased from 45.1% to 48%. If you look at how many people got them, you are ignoring the fact that far more people go to university, so the significance is that if you start in a particular year what is your chance of getting a higher degree? Those figures would not suggest to me that you have rampant grade inflation in the way that some people are saying.[466]

248. We found Mr Denham's explanation unsatisfactory. Both he and Professor Trainor appear to have ignored the overall percentage increase by emphasising, or confusing it with, the percentage point increase. The figures in the above table show a clear trend: a steady increase in the proportion of first degree students achieving first class honours from 7.7% in 1996-97 to 13.3% in 2007-08, which is an increase over the period of 72%. The trend on the proportion of upper seconds is not so pronounced but is still significant. The trend for lower seconds is pronounced: downwards with some exceptions. Thirds appear, since 2002-03, to have stabilised at around 8%. Today, 61% of classified degrees awarded are either first or upper seconds, compared with 53% in 1996-97, again a pronounced trend showing an increase of 15%. The changes between 1996-97 and 2007-08 are shown in the two pie charts below.

Chart 1: Proportion of classes of honours degrees in 1996-97

Chart 2: Proportion of classes of honours degrees in 2007-08

249. The Russell Group said that there was no evidence of "degree inflation" at the expense of standards at Russell Group universities. It pointed out that research from HEFCE had

    demonstrated a strong correlation between entry qualifications and degree results that continues to exist. The increase in the percentage of Russell Group students gaining firsts and 2:1s from 1994-2002 correlates with a rise in the entrants' qualifications and an increase in standards at the time the Russell Group was established.[467]

250. In our view, it is not a sufficient defence of the comparability of standards to show that they match the improvement in A-level grades. On this logic, if A-level grades have inflated unjustifiably (and there are many who think they have), then so must higher education degree classes. Imperial College London said that the "improvement in A Level grades has not been accompanied by a comparable increase in knowledge and understanding".[468]

251. The research by Professor Yorke shows that since 1994-95 the proportion of first and upper second honours degrees has increased and the proportion of lower second class honours degrees has decreased. We made little progress in establishing the reasons for these changes and we found no appetite within the higher education sector for a systematic analysis of the reasons for the increase in the proportion of first and upper second honours degrees. We found it telling that Professor Yorke in his memorandum called for a study to be undertaken of the influences upon the classification of honours degrees. As a Committee we are reluctant to recommend more research but in this case we consider that there is a strong case for a study along the lines suggested by Professor Yorke, in order to establish the reasons for the increases in firsts and upper seconds and to remove suspicions of what, we hope, are unfounded misgivings that the increase may result from factors other than greater intellectual achievement. We recommend that the Higher Education Funding Council for England commission a study to examine the influences upon the classification of honours degrees since 1994 and that this be undertaken in a representative range of subject disciplines.


252. Equally frustrating was our attempt to establish whether the outcomes of degrees were comparable across the higher education sector. We asked Professor Goodman of the University of Oxford to define the difference between the classes of honours degree. He explained:

    The criteria that we use in our university which we ask people to mark against is a 2:2 shows you have done the work, you have understood the work and you are quite comfortable with the work, a 2:1 is somebody who is actually able to use the work and show that they can unpick the question and work around the question and use it in a critical way, and a first class examination answer is something that really takes you to another level. It is a pleasure to read, you know that there is something going on there, that it is doing something very, very interesting with the work.[469]

He added:

    Examiners very rarely disagree about that 2:1 and the first class category. I find elsewhere as well—I taught briefly at the University of Essex and the very best students at the University of Essex were definitely as good as the ones here in that first class bracket.[470]

253. We found Professor Goodman's definition useful as it was capable of application across subjects and institutions and should mean that a student attaining a first class honours degree at the University of Oxford is the equivalent of a student with a first from the University of Essex. When, however, we pressed Vice-Chancellors on the comparability of degrees the position was less clear. In its written evidence Universities UK submitted that, although degrees were "different and more diverse with far more choices available to students and employers than in the past, […] all courses are subject to the same processes to ensure a minimum 'threshold standard' is maintained"[471] and that "while the content of courses may differ, the level of understanding required in each case across different universities will be broadly equivalent".[472] When we took oral evidence, we asked the Vice-Chancellors of Oxford Brookes University and the University of Oxford whether upper seconds in history from their respective universities were equivalent. Professor Beer, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes, replied:

    It depends what you mean by equivalent. I am sorry to quibble around the word but is it worth the same is a question that is weighted with too many social complexities. In terms of the way in which quality and standards are managed in the university I have every confidence that a 2:1 in history from Oxford Brookes is of a nationally recognised standard.[473]

When asked the same question Dr Hood, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, responded:

    We teach in very different ways between the two institutions and I think our curricula are different between the two institutions, so the question really is are we applying a consistent standard in assessing our students as to firsts, 2:1s, 2:2s et cetera? What I want to say in that respect is simply this, that we use external examiners to moderate our examination processes in all of our disciplinary areas at Oxford, and we take that external examination assessment very, very seriously. The external examiners' reports after each round are submitted through our faculty boards, they are assessed and considered by the faculty boards, they are then assessed at the divisional board level and by the educational committee of the university. This is a process that goes on round the clock annually, so we would be comfortable that our degree classifications are satisfying an expectation of national norms.[474]

254. We asked John Denham a similar question—whether a first in geography from the University of Oxford was the same as a first in geography from Southampton Solent University—and he replied along the same lines:

    I think the institutions are different institutions. The teaching may well be different. The nature of the staff may be different. There will be some nationally agreed reference points in the academic infrastructure about what should be in the course and each institution will have its own system for verifying the quality and standards of it. People are studying the same subject in different institutions. Where I am reluctant to go is into an argument about better or worse. A lot is going to depend on the individual student, the nature of the study and what they are going to get out of it.[475]

255. We found these answers unclear. Nor did we find the other arguments deployed by universities convincing when we raised the question of comparisons. First, the argument that a comparison of degree outcomes across the sector would require national curricula and national testing[476] rests, in our view, on the unqualified proposition that the only method to achieve comparability is via the single route of national tests. We consider that national standards can be established and enforced by other methods such as peer review against a national standard—a development of the role conventionally played by external examiners. Second, the argument was put forward that minimum standards, not comparability, was the issue.[477] We fail to see why minimum standards should be a substitute for the comparison of excellence. Both are important.

256. With 133 institutions the higher education sector is diverse. While we celebrate and encourage the diversity of the higher education sector in England, it is our view that there need to be some common reference points. We consider that standards have to be capable of comprehensive and consistent application across the sector. As we noted at the beginning of this chapter, students, understandably, want to know the worth of their degrees. We were therefore concerned when staff at Imperial College London informed the Chairman of the Committee during his visit as a rapporteur that some academics had noticed that masters students enrolled at Imperial, who had graduated from certain other universities with first class honours degrees, sometimes struggled at Imperial College.[478] We consider that this could be evidence of a devaluation of degrees in those institutions. We consider that so long as there is a classification system it is essential that it should categorise all degrees against a consistent set of standards across all higher education institutions in England. Such work will need to build upon work previously undertaken by the QAA and other bodies with responsibilities for accreditation of degrees such as those in engineering. On the basis of the evidence we received, however, we have concerns that the higher education sector neither sees the need for this step nor is willing to implement it across the sector as whole. We consider that this is a task that would fit well within the work of the reformed QAA. We conclude that a key task of a reformed QAA, in consultation with higher education institutions and government, should be to define the characteristics of each class of honours degree and to ensure that the standards which each university draws up and applies are derived from these classification standards.


257. In its evidence, the Assessment Standards Knowledge Exchange (ASKe) argued that there were "numerous and significant methodological flaws in current assessment practice at both the macro level of degree classification, and at the micro level of the assessment of individual students" which meant that "there should be growing concern about the integrity of the degree as a qualification and what it means to be a graduate."[479] ASKe in its memorandum drew on the published work of Dr Rust, from Oxford Brookes University, who provided examples of "major questionable beliefs and bad practices in the system":

    a)  the practice of combining scores, which obscured the different types of learning outcome represented by the separate scores; and

    b)  the practice of combining scores where the variation (standard deviation) for each component is different.

Dr Rust commented that this latter example "would be unacceptable in the practice of a first year statistics student, but university assessment systems do this all the time, both within modules, and in combining the total marks from different modules or units of study."[480]

258. In its memorandum the Student Assessment and Classification Working Group (SACWG), on whose behalf Dr Rust gave oral evidence, indicated that there was "considerable variation across the higher education sector in assessment practices. Whilst this can be seen as a consequence of institutional autonomy, the rationales for the various institutional choices that have been made are unclear."[481] The memorandum cited research which showed that:

    Quite small variations in the way in which degree classifications are determined (the "award algorithm") can have more effect on the classification of some students than is probably generally realised. Running a set of results through other institutional award algorithms produces different profiles of classifications.[482]

    A number of institutions permit a small proportion of module results to be dropped from the determination of the class of the honours degree (provided all the relevant credits are gained). Dropping the "worst" 30 credit points from the normal 240 of the final two years of full-time study might raise one classification in six, and (separately) changing the ratio of weightings of results from the penultimate year to the final year from 1:1 to 1:3 might change one classification in ten, the majority of changes being upwards.[483]

    Marks for coursework assignments tend to be higher than those for formal examinations, though some instances were found where the reverse was the case.[484]

    The distribution of marks (usually in the form of percentages) varies between subject disciplines in terms of both mean mark and spread.[485]

    A study of assessment regulations across 35 varied institutions in the UK showed that there were considerable variations between them […]. Amongst the variations were the following:
  • The weightings in the award algorithm ranging between 1:1 and 1:4 for penultimate final year;
  • The treatment of "borderline" performances as regards classification;
  • The adoption (or not) of "compensation" (i.e. allowing weakness in one aspect to be offset against strength in another) and "condonement" (i.e. not requiring a relatively minor failure to be redeemed);
  • The "capping" of marks for re-taken assessments (at the level of a bare pass).[486]

259. The evidence from ASKe and SACWG was underscored by a number of academics with responsibility for assessing students.[487] Dr Reid explained in oral evidence that:

    my university runs what has been described as a very perverse model for classifying degree schemes, and it was my external examiner who called it perverse. What happens is that low marks between 0 and 20 are rounded up to 20 and high marks from 80 to 100 are rounded downwards, and then they are averaged together, so you have this non-linear average before making a classification.[488]

260. The evidence we received on assessment methodologies gave us serious grounds for concern. First, there needs to be transparency about the methodological assumptions underpinning the assessments used by universities. We recommend that the government require those higher education institutions in receipt of support from the taxpayer to publish the details of the methodological assumptions underpinning assessments for all degrees. We would expect greater transparency of these methods to expose any methodological flaws that those who gave evidence suggest are present. We believe that publication would allow the QAA, even under its current remit which is limited to the examination of "process", to review comprehensively the methodologies used by universities. We conclude that the QAA should review the methodological assumptions underpinning assessments for degrees to ensure that they meet acceptable statistical practice.


261. Universities UK made the point that any system which attempted to summarise the achievement of students on a wide variety of programmes in a large number of institutions to a single, common, summative judgement was a "blunt instrument".[489] Universities UK agreed with the finding of the Burgess Group, which it and GuildHE had established in 2004, that the current undergraduate degree classification system did not adequately represent the achievement of students in a modern, diverse higher education system, though it noted that it was easier to identify the problems with the current system than to reach consensus on what should replace it.[490] The Burgess Group's Report[491] published in 2007 recommended that the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) should become the main vehicle for measuring and recording a student's achievement. The report proposed that the HEAR should be developed and tested over a four-year period alongside the existing degree classification system. Following consultation and development work, the Burgess Implementation Steering Group is now working with a wide range of universities across the UK—with support from the funding bodies of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—to trial the new approach. Initially, the HEAR was tested on data relating to recently graduated students to ensure that it is compatible with student record systems. It will then be trialled with current students, alongside current methods of recording student achievement.[492]

262. We found broad support across the sector, and beyond it, for the HEAR.[493] Professor Ebdon from Million+ considered the current classification system was outmoded. He explained:

    It always used to strike me as a chemist that I would be telling my students not to average the unaverageable, and then I would walk into an examination board and do exactly that! As a chemist, I know very well that some people have very strong practical skills; others are stronger theoretically. I would like to be able to identify that, and I think that the higher education achievement record will enable us to do that. I am therefore strongly in favour of that.[494]

263. There were two issues that concerned those who submitted evidence to us. First, whether the HEAR, if it emerged successfully from the trials, would replace the current honours classification system. The Institute of Directors (IoD) disagreed with the "Burgess Group assertion that there is 'conclusive evidence' that while the summative judgement 'endures', it will actively inhibit the use of wider information".[495] The IoD called for the summative judgement—in other words, the current classification system—to be retained permanently as part of the HEAR.[496] In oral evidence, the IoD explained that it did not "argue the system is perfect but it is a very useful and very simple metric very early on in the recruitment process to give an indication of the overall calibre of an applicant."[497] Similarly, the Engineering Council UK (ECUK) saw a role for both: it welcomed the "recommendations of the Burgess Report, in particular the introduction of the HE Achievement Record (HEAR) alongside the current honours degree classification system".[498]

264. We agree with the employers' representatives. While we fully support the work of the Burgess Group in developing the HEAR, we consider that it would be precipitate to replace the summative judgment provided by the current classification system. It will take employers and those outside the higher education sector some time to become familiar with, and accept, any new system based on the HEAR. Speaking as lay people we understand why employers and others may require a summary judgement as well as a detailed review of a student's achievements, which is unlikely to be useful in an initial trawl of applications for jobs. We are therefore concerned that any abrupt switch would risk undermining the excellent work the Burgess Group has done, especially if the inevitable complexities of the system foster unwarranted suspicions that it is masking further grade "inflation". In our view, the higher education sector should run the two together for a significant period after the end of the trial and allow the current classification system either to wither on the vine or to survive if experience shows that it is wanted. We conclude that the HEAR and the current honours degree classification system should run in parallel for at least five years.

265. The second concern was whether the HEAR should include non-academic achievements (including non-assessed work-based learning, and personal qualities extended through paid employment). Carrie Donaghy, a student on the panel that returned to give oral evidence in April, believed that the current degree classification was "outdated and rigid" and that it bore "no reflection of students' contributions to sport and volunteering".[499] She said that she had consulted her fellow students who believed that the HEAR project was going to be "an excellent way to keep the traditional elements of the degree classification" which employers recognise but also give "something further for employers to consider, because the ideal candidates […] for jobs are often those who are involved with things like volunteering and sport, they are more social, they are team-players and team-leaders and the HEAR pilot will really see this through".[500] The counter view was given by another student, Anand Raja, who returned in April:

    University is a place where you go to learn, just as a hospital is a place where you go to get treatment, it is not a place where you go for entertainment. Our universities are for learning; that should be kept in focus. Also the idea that including such variables in the degree would help employers make better sense of what a person is like is a good idea but it is not necessary to include those variables in the degree because you can always write about them in your CV.[501]

266. The HEAR as currently drafted would provide, by comparison with the current degree classification system, much more information and there were some concerns that the HEAR could be unwieldy. As Ed Steward, a student, said to us, it should not be "a short synopsis of every course you have done and you end up handing a booklet over to your employer […] and we end up with far too much information for employers."[502] There is, however, a question about accessibility and balance within a HEAR document, including the fact that much of the information which might be provided is, de facto, probably already available within institutions at the point a student leaves but not currently brought together in a coherent whole. We also consider that inclusion of information beyond the academic could act as a stimulus to students to broaden their skills while at university and that it has the potential to affect a student's attitude to, and involvement in, higher education; it could, for example, help to diminish non-completion rates. We conclude that the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) should record academic achievement and reflect significant non-academic achievement. The record will, however, need to be carefully structured to enable a convenient reading of academic achievement separate from other activity. Furthermore, we consider that, as part of the review of the HEAR pilot, various good practice models incorporating the range of academic and non-academic elements, should be provided to enable those who will use the HEAR—for example, employers, those providing training and students themselves—to gain ready access to the information required.

External Examiners

267. When we turned to consider the role and value of the external examiner system, we found it illuminating to start with what the Robbins Report said in 1963 on standards:

    [S]tandards vary to some extent: such variations are in the nature of things. But an autonomous institution should be free to establish and maintain its own standards of competence without reference to any central authority. The habit of appointing external examiners from other universities and the obvious incentive to maintain a high place in public esteem provide in our judgment a sufficient safeguard against any serious abuse of this liberty.[503]

268. The one part of the system that the Robbins Report described nearly 50 years ago that still appears recognisable is the role of the external examiner. External examiners continue to have—or it might be more accurate to say, are perceived to have—a key role in safeguarding standards, although the degree to which this remains true is unclear. As Universities UK explained, universities in this country have a "long history of cross-checking the quality and standards of their own provision with that of other institutions through a system of external examiners" and that the involvement of external examiners was "recognised internationally as a key mechanism for ensuring comparability across the UK higher education system".[504] Professor Trainor from Universities UK in his oral evidence called the external examiner system "a jewel in the crown of UK quality maintenance".[505] He explained that the UK had a "double system, double insurance, […] of internal scrutiny and external scrutiny, and the two join together in the external examiner system".[506]

269. We received evidence that indicated that this "jewel in the crown" had become tarnished. One academic in his evidence stated: "External scrutiny is supposed to be provided by the external examiner system, a procedure which is too often abused. External examiners are often friends of the module leaders and are frequently asked to scrutinise subject areas with which they are unfamiliar. They are not encouraged to pass adverse comments."[507] Another academic wrote in his memorandum:

    The role of the external examiner is, in principle, supposed to be that of a supervisor and guarantor of certain standards of quality and probity. Sadly, this lofty aspiration is met more in the breach than in the observance because of two main factors. In the first place, many universities have succeeded in severely restricting the scope for action by the external examiner by the manner in which they circumscribe his/her duties in the relevant regulations. In many cases, the external examiner does not monitor the general level of the marks [nor] is given the opportunity to change individual grades, since all he/she is called upon to do is to arbitrate between first and second markers and/or make a decision in borderline cases. […]

    [T]here is another way in which the external examiner is unable fully to exercise his role as guardian of standards, in that he/she cannot possibly know what has passed between tutor and student prior to the assessment, or the input which the tutor has had in it (in the case of coursework). For it is the worst-kept secret in the academic world that, for unseen examination papers, most tutors provide their students with the contents of the paper beforehand, or at least give them a list of topics from which the questions will be drawn. The role of the external examiner is therefore predicated on an assumption of academic integrity which, for the most part, does not exist.[508]

270. Professor Brown, former Vice-Chancellor of Southampton Solent University, said that the external examiner system was becoming "outmoded" not only "because of the basic weaknesses in the system" but also because of the growth of multi-disciplinary and modular courses which meant that the external examiner was "not in close contact with the student on a piece of work, which was the original rationale for the system. But then on top of that you have these forces of competition which inevitably will make people cut corners."[509] He also commented that there was "no substitute for an independent, impartial expert view of the curriculum from professional academics who know their subject and that is the gap in our arrangements at the moment and that is what needs to be done".[510]

271. In 1997, the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education ("the Dearing Report") recommended that the sector "create, within three years, a UK-wide pool of academic staff recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency, from which institutions must select external examiners".[511] As far as we are aware this recommendation has never been implemented and in the years since the Dearing Report we cannot see that higher education institutions have done much to safeguard or improve the external examiner system. The evidence we received showed that far from being the jewel in the crown that Universities UK claimed it was, it appeared that system might be simultaneously wilting and rotting from within as it has become exposed to the pressures and heat of sector-wide changes, internal pressures and external demands. In our view, if matters continue as they have been the system of external examiners will become outmoded. Whilst it had value in the past in guaranteeing, as Professor Brown put it, that "anyone who takes a British degree is getting a worthwhile qualification with a worthwhile curriculum",[512] we believe that it will be unable to continue to provide an assurance of quality unless the independence, rigour and consistency of the system is reinvigorated and enhanced.

272. From the evidence that we received we would say that the problems of the external examiner system at present can be summarised as:

  • the remit and autonomy of external examiners is often unclear and may sometimes differ substantially across institutions in terms of operational practices;
  • the reports produced by external examiners are often insufficiently rigorous and critical;
  • the external examiner's report's recommendations are often not acted upon—partly because their remit is unclear; and
  • the appointment of external examiners is generally not transparent.

273. Notwithstanding these deficiencies, we agree with Universities UK that the external examiner system is fundamental to ensuring high and comparable standards across the sector and that is why we believe that it is worth making the effort to refurbish the system. The starting point for the repair of the external examiner system is the recommendation made by the Dearing Report to the Quality Assurance Agency "to work with universities and other degree awarding institutions to create, within three years, a UK-wide pool of academic staff recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency, from which institutions must select external examiners". We conclude that the sector should now implement this recommendation. Drawing on the evidence we received we would add that the reformed QAA should be given the responsibility of ensuring that the system of external examiners works and that, to enable comparability, the QAA should ensure that standards are applied consistently across institutions. We strongly support the development of a national "remit" for external examiners, clarifying, for example, what documents external examiners should be able to access, the extent to which they can amend marks—in our view, they should have wide discretion—and the matters on which they can comment. This should be underpinned with an enhanced system of training, which would allow examiners to develop the generic skills necessary for multi-disciplinary courses. We conclude that higher education institutions should only employ external examiners from the national pool. The system should also be transparent and we conclude that, to assist current and prospective students, external examiners' reports should be published without redaction, other than to remove material which could be used to identify an individual's mark or performance.


274. In its memorandum ASKe[513] commented that plagiarism was a problem and that "concern about student plagiarism is an even greater problem". ASKe reported that:

    There is evidence to show it is rising, and in particular, that deliberate attempts to deceive assessors are rising sharply from a relatively low base of (a generally agreed assumed level of) 10-15 cases per 1000 submissions. Statistics about levels of plagiarism are contradictory and hard to evaluate as they ask very different questions of different groups of students. Surveys that show "almost all students cheat" are frequent but irrelevant since they usually refer to one-off or pragmatic decisions with little or no impact on students' overall skills/learning or on the credibility of their final award. […] There is much useless scaremongering in this area, implying that UK graduates are not reliably assessed on discipline specific skills.

    The opportunities for plagiarism have risen exponentially since 2003, both in terms of available internet resources and via bespoke writing "services" […] It is estimated that the latter are available via more than 250 sites in the UK alone. In 2005, the Guardian stated such "services" attracted spending of more than 200 million pounds per year. These opportunities and evidence of their use do now present a threat to generic, coursework-assessed courses. Copying and faking work is likely to be a regular practice in large, generic courses in some disciplines. Business, Computing and Law are most often mentioned though concern in all disciplines is widespread. In some cases, studies show up to 50 per cent of students say they submit others' work, at least for some of the assessment, in large, generic courses assessed by coursework. […]

    Simplistic reactions to the problems of plagiarism, like a retreat to exams or reliance on technology are not the solution. Addressing plagiarism is well within the capacity of university pedagogic and administrative processes and there are examples of it being handled with creativity and good effect across the UK. There are also many examples of universities who have yet to address the issue systematically and in those cases, a significant issue remains.[514]

275. A number of academics commented in their written submissions on plagiarism as part of a decline in academic standards. For example:

    In the time I have been teaching I have witnessed a remarkable decline in academic standards. At many institutions, grades have been inflated, plagiarism is often ignored.[515]

    The University strategies to identify plagiarism were inadequate and the procedures available to combat plagiarism were ineffective. I repeatedly tried to have my concerns about excessive toleration of plagiarism considered by the University. However, I was constantly put off by the University Management. All my complaints were ignored despite a litany of requests for action and no penalties were sanctioned when plagiarism was suspected and detected.[516]

276. When she gave evidence to us Dr Fenton, an academic, said:

    I am in charge of all plagiarism cases in our department. I reckon 10 to 20 per cent of all assignments are plagiarised. We do offer extensive advice on what plagiarism is and how to avoid it to all students at all levels through all course handbooks, and they have to sign bits of paper when they hand work in saying they understand those criteria and they have not plagiarised. We ask for electronic copies of all assessments handed in and they are put through plagiarism detection software. If, at the point of marking, they are suspected of plagiarism then they are put through the software and then we pick them up. We probably pick up about 2 per cent of what I imagine is 10 to 20 per cent.[517]

At the same session another academic, Dr Reid, added that his experience was

    certainly plagiarism levels have increased, but on the science side it is perhaps a slightly different problem than having a big pile of essays; we are often in a situation where there are right answers and wrong answers and it is very easy to distinguish between the two, and it is sometimes difficult to understand how a student has arrived at the right solution and whether they have done that independently or in a group. I have had very nasty plagiarism cases in my department to deal with; I am Director of Learning and Teaching and I have overall responsibility for those issues. Almost invariably, the student's excuse was pressure of time, the deadline coming up and they had to work 17 hours that week to pay the rent, and really regretted doing it but in a moment of weakness took a piece of work from somebody else, and handed the same thing in. It is devastating.[518]

277. The evidence we received from students showed us that they were aware of plagiarism and significantly they told us of the steps that the sector was taking to combat the problem. Ed Steward, a student explained:

    you have huge amounts of guidance on plagiarism. In every single book that you are given there is guidance on plagiarism, it is given out on separate sheets, it is sent out before you even arrive at university, it is on the website, it is absolutely everywhere because it is so crucial that you understand plagiarism in order not to commit it. I sit on some disciplinaries for students who have been accused of plagiarism and the two types of students that I see are those that panic and have not done the work, and plagiarise in order just to submit the work on time, and those who genuinely do not understand that they have plagiarised. It can be as simple as referencing, not putting things in quotation marks; that counts as plagiarism, so the university is keen to ensure that every student fully understands every aspect of plagiarism.[519]

278. There was, however, some evidence of variation in the level of vigilance against plagiarism within the sector. Ricky Chotai, a student, considered that not "enough emphasis is put on the structure, do we use the Harvard system [of referencing], and then some academics are also somewhat lax—as long as you are putting references down and as long as it is not the strict system—other academics are very strict as in you must use a specific system."[520] He also said that in his university that "we have seen an increasing trend in plagiarism […] with international students and where […] the university is using agencies to recruit students from abroad […] they are just not explaining about plagiarism".[521] Mr Chotai added that "we have had some really shocking cases of a lot of students in a single class plagiarising and being simply unaware of it."[522]

279. From the limited evidence we received it is clear that plagiarism by students is a serious problem and challenge but one that the higher education sector in general is both aware of, and, the higher education sector claims, actively responding to. There is, however, no room for complacency. Since 2003 the opportunities for plagiarism have risen exponentially, both in terms of material available on the Internet and, apparently, by the development of a market in so-called writing services for students. We conclude that the growth in opportunities for plagiarism is such that the sector needs to be especially vigilant, establish the application of consistent approaches across the sector and ensure that it fully shares intelligence. We recognise that many students accused of plagiarism may be guilty of little more than failing to reference sources correctly and that the majority of students are conscientious and act in good faith. Given, however, the scale and potential for damage to the reputation of English universities it is vital that the problem is held in check and then progressively "educated" and "managed" out of the system. We recommend that the Government, in consultation with the higher education sector including students' representatives, put in place arrangements to establish standards, which set out what is and what is not plagiarism, ensure that comprehensive guidance is available across the sector, and co-ordinate action to combat plagiarism. One possible candidate for this work is the Higher Education Academy working with the reformed QAA. We also request that the Government, in responding to this Report, advise whether those providing or using so-called "writing services", to produce work which students can misrepresent as their own, are liable for criminal prosecution.

365   These definitions draw on definitions given in a talk by Peter Williams, Chief Executive of the QAA, and "The Evolution of Institutional Audit in England" posted on the Internet at

366   Ev 438, para 17 Back

367   As above Back

368   Ev 438, para 18 Back

369   Q 40 Back

370   Qq 412 (Professor Arthur), 413 Back

371   Ev 283, para 15 Back

372   HC 370-iii, Q 369 Back

373   As above Back

374   HC 370-iii, Q 387 Back

375   HC 370-iii, Q 387 Back

376   Ev 171, para 6; see also Ev 159 (Informal meeting with students at Imperial College London) and Ev 164-65 (Informal meeting with University of Oxford students), Qq 252-53. Back

377   HC 370-ii, Q 352 Back

378   HC 370-ii, Q 354 Back

379   Q 198 Back

380   Ev 171 Back

381   QAA, Self Evaluation: External Review for Confirmation of Full Membership of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), February 2008, and QAA's website provide the following information. The Board of QAA has 15 members: four are appointed by the representative bodies of the heads of higher education institutions; four are appointed by the funding bodies in higher education in the UK; six are independent directors who have wide experience of industry, commerce, finance or the practice of a profession, and are appointed by the Board as a whole; and one is a student, also appointed by the Board as a whole. Back

382   QAA, An Introduction to the QAA, 2009 Back

383   Ev 438, para 18 Back

384   The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) is a non-ministerial government department created on 1st April 2007. The Education & Inspections Act 2006 established the new Department as the single inspectorate in England for children, young people and adult learners, bringing together functions from the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) of HM Inspectorate of Court Administration (HMICA), the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI), and the Office for Standards in Education (the former Ofsted). (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills Resource Accounts 2007-08, HC (2007-08) 582) Back

385   QAA, Annual review 2006-07, 2008, p 16 Back

386   Ev 237, paras 1.2-1.3 Back

387   Q 40; see also Qq 102, 105 and 107. Back

388   Q 40 Back

389   As above Back

390   Q 412 (Professor Driscoll) Back

391   Q 317 Back

392   Ev 187, (Mr Royle) para 3.5 Back

393   Ev 186 (Professor Ryan) Back

394   Q 470 Back

395   Ev 185 (Professor Ryan) and Ev 381 (Staffordshire University), para 3.1 Back

396   HC 370-ii, Q 258; Ofqual is the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator and is regulator of qualifications, examinations and tests in England; it does not cover the higher education sector. Back

397   HC 370-ii, Q 258 Back

398   Q 342 Back

399   As above Back

400   Q 343 Back

401   As above Back

402   QAA, Procedure for identifying and handling causes for concern in English institutions offering higher education programmes or awards, Procedure for adoption from 1 March 2007. Back

403   DIUS, Higher Education Funding Council for England, Department of Health, Ofsted, Training and Development Agency, National Union of Students, The National Postgraduate Committee, Architects Registration Board, Royal Institute of British Architects, Engineering Council UK, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, The Law Society, The Bar Council, Health Professions Council, General Medical Council, General Dental Council, General Optical Council, General Social Care Council, General Chiropractic Council, General Osteopathic Council, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, Nursing and Midwifery Council, The British Psychological Society, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, The Association of International Accountants, The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales Back

404   QAA, Procedure for identifying and handling causes for concern in English institutions offering higher education programmes or awards, Procedure for adoption from 1 March 2007 Back

405   Ev 518 Back

406   As above Back

407   As above Back

408   QAA, Thematic enquiries into concerns about academic quality and standards in higher education in England: Final report, April 2009, p 1 Back

409   QAA, Thematic enquiries into concerns about academic quality and standards in higher education in England: Final report, April 2009, p 1 Back

410   QAA, Thematic enquiries into concerns about academic quality and standards in higher education in England: Final report, April 2009, para 30 Back

411   For example, in this case we favour a code of practice on information for prospective students-see para 98. Back

412   Q 541 Back

413   Q 541; see also Qq 546-50 Back

414   The Academic Experience of Students in English Universities (2007 report), HEPI, September 2007, and The Academic Experience of Students in English Universities (2009 Report), HEPI, May 2009 Back

415   Qq 48-57, 419-21; HC 370-i, Qq 6-10 Back

416   Q 419 Back

417   Q 422 Back

418   The Academic Experience of Students in English Universities (2009 Report), HEPI, May 2009, paras 1 and 15 Back

419   Q 423 Back

420   Ev 243, para 4 Back

421   Ev 244, para 10 Back

422  Back

423   HC 370-i, Q 16 Back

424   HC 370-i, Qq 16-17 Back

425   Department for Education and Skills, Applications for the grant of taught degree-awarding powers, research degree-awarding powers and university title Guidance for applicant organisations in England and Wales, August 2008, para 2 Back

426   QAA, A brief guide to QAA's involvement in degree-awarding powers and university title,  Back

427   Department for Education and Skills, Applications for the grant of taught degree-awarding powers, research degree-awarding powers and university title Guidance for applicant organisations in England and Wales, August 2008, para 21 ff. and Appendix 1 Back

428   Q 102 Back

429   Q 45 Back

430   Q 46 Back

431   For example, Ev 500 (Professor El-Sayed), Ev 537 [WJ Cairns] Back

432   Ev 499, para 21 Back

433   As above Back

434   Ev 513, para 5 Back

435   Q 479 Back

436   Q 480; see also Q 477 Back

437   Q 482 Back

438   Q 484 Back

439   Q 483 Back

440   Ev 531 Back

441   Ev 531; see also "'Bullied' academics' blog attack", BBC, 8 May 2007 Back

442   Ev 499, para 21 Back

443   Ev 500 (Professor El-Sayed) Back

444   Q 517 Back

445   Dictionary of the History of Ideas at  Back

446   Robbins Report, para 705-06 Back

447   Robbins Report, para 707ff Back

448   Fourth Report of Session 2007-08, Science Budget Allocations, HC 215-i, paras 20-27; Eighth Report of Session 2008-09, Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy, HC 168-I, para 138ff Back

449   Robbins Report, para 707 ff. Back

450   HC 370-ii, Q 175 Back

451   Q 507 Back

452   See Third Report of Session 2007-08, Withdrawal of funding for equivalent or lower level qualifications (ELQs), HC 178-i, para 2. Back

453   Q 400 Back

454   Ev 182 (Professor Gorard); Ev 322 (157 Group), paras 4-5; Ev 345 (1994 Group), para 3; Ev 402, 404-07 (Russell Group); Ev 437 (Universities UK), para 9; Ev 506 (NAO), para 20; Q 85 (Professor Baker); Q 145 (Mr Streeting); see also Ev 160 (Informal meeting with Liverpool Hope students), Ev 162 (Informal meeting with University of Oxford students); Ev 166 (E-Consultation). Back

455   "DIUS response to HESA performance indicators", DIUS Press Release, 4 June 2009 Back

456   Ev 534 Back

457   "Eddies in the current? Trends in honours degree classifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 2002-07", Mantz Yorke, Visiting Professor, Lancaster University, Paper presented on 9 December 2008 at the Society for Research into Higher Education held in Liverpool Conference, Liverpool, Ev 202 Back

458   Ev 201, para 4-5 Back

459   Ev 201, para 6 Back

460   Ev 258 (Dr Penhallurick), para 4 Back

461   Ev 212 (Dr Derbyshire), para 3 Back

462   Ev 538 (Mr Cairns), para 4 Back

463   Ev 344 (Mr Dyer) Back

464   Ev 320, para 17 Back

465   Q 42 Back

466   Q 544 Back

467   Ev 414, para 54 Back

468   Ev 350, para 7 Back

469   HC 370-ii, Q274 Back

470   As above Back

471   Ev 439, para 20 Back

472   Ev 439, para 21 Back

473   HC 370-ii, Q 201 Back

474   HC 370-ii, Q 203 (Dr Hood) Back

475   Q 553 Back

476   Q 416 (Professor Arthur) Back

477   Q 416 (Professor Brown) Back

478   Ev 157 Back

479   Ev 194, para 3.1 Back

480   Ev 195, para 3.3.5 Back

481   Ev 223 Back

482   Ev 221, para 7 Back

483   Ev 221, para 8 Back

484   Ev 221, para 9 Back

485   Ev 221, para 10 Back

486   Ev 222, para 13 Back

487   For example, Ev 537 (Mr Cairns) Back

488   Q 469 Back

489   Ev 439, para 28 Back

490   Ev 439, para 28 Back

491   Universities UK, Beyond the honours degree classification: Burgess Group Final Report, October 2007, at  Back

492   "Institutions pilot new student achievement report", Universities UK Press Release, 21 October 2008 Back

493   Ev 196 (ASKe), para 3.5; Ev 239 (QAA), para 5.1; Ev 263 (NUS), para 19; Ev 306 (Higher Education Academy), para 2.5; Ev 310 and 314 (Million+); Ev 330 (University of the Creative Arts), para 11.5; Ev 367 (ECUK), para 9; Ev 435 (Birmingham City University), para 3.4.1; Ev 498 (UCU), para 17 Back

494   Q 44 Back

495   Ev 333, para 8 Back

496   Ev 333, para 9 Back

497   HC 370-iii, Q 371 Back

498   Ev 367, para 9 Back

499   HC 370-iii, Q 422 Back

500   As above Back

501   HC 370-iii, Q 423 Back

502   HC 370-iii, Q 428  Back

503   Robbins Report, para 713 Back

504   Ev 439, para 24 Back

505   Q 40 Back

506   Q 40 Back

507   Ev 187 (Mr Royle), para 3.9  Back

508   Ev 538 (Mr Cairns), paras 10-11  Back

509   Q 417 Back

510   Q 423 (Professor Brown) Back

511   Dearing Report, recommendation 25 Back

512   Q 417 Back

513   Assessment Standards Knowledge Exchange Back

514   Ev 196, para 3.6; see also Ev 193, para 18; Ev 232, para 22; and Ev 258, para 8.  Back

515   Ev 187 (Mr Royle), para 3.1 Back

516   Ev 501 (Professor El-Sayed), para 4.1 Back

517   Q 446 Back

518   Q 449 Back

519   HC 370-iii, Q 441 (Mr Steward); see also Q 450. Back

520   HC 370-iii, Q 452  Back

521   HC 370-iii, Q 445  Back

522   HC 370-iii, Q 445 (Mr Chotai) Back

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