UK: Standards in decline at many universities

Academic standards are in decline in many British universities, comments Professor Geoffrey Alderman, professor of politics and contemporary history at the University of Buckingham, in The Times. Students who would once have been failed their degrees pass, and students who would once have been awarded respectable lower seconds are now awarded upper seconds and even firsts. He blames an "insidious managerial culture obsessed with league tables and newspaper rankings", under-funding, and too much emphasis on public image and 'customer satisfaction'.

Students - British as well as those from overseas - commence their studies with levels of English so poor that universities run remedial English courses to ensure at least basic literacy. Cheating is rampant, encouraged partly by lenient penalties.

How do I know all this? asks Alderman in The Times. Part of the evidence is statistical. Over the past decade the number of firsts has more than doubled, while the undergraduate population has increased by less than a half. The standard leaving qualification for most students is now an upper second - the lower second is an endangered species and the third on the verge of extinction. A recent survey by the Higher Education Academy suggested that, of 9,000 or so cases of plagiarism recorded last year, only 143 resulted in expulsion.

"But statistical evidence is no more than a signpost. In recent years I have become alarmed and depressed at the number of inquiries I receive from usually young scholars just embarking on their careers and coming under intolerable managerial pressure to pass students who should fail and to 'massage" students into higher qualifications'.
Full report on The Times site