The article by Polly Curtis presents the case that an "authoritative new study" presents "evidence of grade inflation" at Russell Group universities which will lead to "accusations of dumbing down" that haven't been levelled at these universities before.
This is all very exciting. Let's look at what's actually happened.
Mantz Yorke, who has been studying this area for some time and knows his stuff, has written a book (which was out in April). In it he presents some data on degrees awarded which shows that the number of 2:1s and Firsts awarded went up between 1994/5 and 2001/2.
So, the data is old.
In the article, Yorke is quoted as saying,
"My evidence suggests that people who attack colleges and new universities for softening or dumbing down are perhaps a little premature"Which is not quite the same as accusing the Russell Group of grade inflation.
Later in the article, Curtis herself says,
As Yorke himself points out, rising grades do not necessarily indicate 'grade inflation'.Before going on to explain why. In addition the allegation that this is all rather new will come as news to Tony Mooney, author of this piece from 2003 in the Guardian on, er, Mantz Yorke's research into grade inflation (using, er, the same data as in his book of this year), in which Yorke concludes,
...there is, on present data, little evidence that the percentage of good degrees has been inflated across any of the whole universities whose data have been analysed.
So, let's summarise. An eyecatching piece in the main paper and currently occupying a key spot on the much-visited Guardian website concerns a book that's been out for 6 months, analysing data that's now over 6 years old, that doesn't support the headline or opening paragraphs of the article and rehashes a 4 year old piece from the same newspaper anyway.
And yet, the effect will be, for casual readers, to give the impression that our degree system is deteriorating. It smacks of a journalist playing the age-old game of 'Let's You And Him Fight' justified by the publication, next week, of a review of qualification classifications.
There is a need for a proper, grown-up debate on degrees and their value, but this is not the opening sally into that arena, unfortunately. This isn't a case of educational grade inflation, just a case of journalistic claim inflation.
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