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Is university getting easier?

This morning I noticed that The Metro had reported that 70% of undergraduate students are now leaving university with a 2:1 or above. This coupled with the fact that the number of students gaining a first class degree has doubled over the past decade points to a dramatic improvement in university students results everywhere.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/11347738/One-in-five-students-awarded-firsts-by-universities.html.

It is suggested that this is for one of two reasons; firstly, The Telegraph suggests it is down to universities doing all they can to climb the ranking tables and therefore attract new students. The metro on the other hand, made it front page news that it was down to the increase in tuition fees, which is a strange conclusion given that increased tuition fees had no effect on the year who’s results have been published (they came into effect the year after).

I am currently a third year geography student in Newcastle upon Tyne and I tend to side with the telegraph. The module leaders who mark students’ assessments have an active incentive for their students to do well. If they have a bad year of results, not only does it negatively affect the university, it reflects badly on them personally. If they have a year that performs badly, their ability as educators is called into question, so why mark fairly when they can ensure this does not happen.

However tuition fees are relevant to this debate. In theory, the higher tuition fees should have caused a lower amount of applications to university, meaning a more important and competitive fight for students between unis, as prospective students check the league tables!

While a judgement on whether a higher price will affect student effort levels will have to be saved for next year, it does seem to me that university is getting easier. University faculties have no reason to want their students to fail, and have the power to ensure this does not happen. In 1998 110,000 students gained a 2:1 while 21,700 claimed a third, in 2014 198,000 got a 2:1 while the amount of thirds only increased by 200. In the same time frame applications have risen from 400,000 to 700,000. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30684462. Students working harder? Something’s not right.

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