UK

More than a third of graduates won a first-class degree last summer thanks to new Covid rules

More than a third of graduates won a first-class degree last summer thanks to new Covid rules allowing students to self-certify as sick and still get top marks for late coursework

  • Proportion of students awarded first-class degrees rose from 28 per cent in 2019
  • Leap came as undergraduates studied from home as institutions moved online
  • Universities UK and GuildHE yesterday published a report examining factors 

More than a third of graduates were awarded a first-class degree last summer as universities allowed students to self-certify illnesses and still get top marks for late work.

Institutions also shifted to ‘more coursework-based assessments along with the use of quizzes, video submissions and digital portfolios’. 

The proportion of students awarded first-class degrees rose from 28 per cent in 2019 to 35 per cent last year.

Along with upper seconds, the numbers gaining upper awards rose from 76 per cent in 2018-19 to 82 per cent in 2019-20.

The leap came as undergraduates mainly studied from home as institutions moved online from mid-March last year.

More than a third of graduates were awarded a first-class degree last summer as universities allowed students to self-certify illnesses and still get top marks for late work (stock image)

Universities UK and GuildHE yesterday published a report examining factors that may have contributed to the increase in firsts and upper seconds.

Last year many universities introduced measures to mitigate the challenges caused by the pandemic.

This included ‘no detriment’ policies, which protected students in extreme circumstances by using prior grades, and which calculated degree awards ‘based on the adverse circumstances not occurring’. 

Universities also adopted ‘blanket rules’ in mitigating circumstances applications to respond to the high volume of similar requests. 

The report said: ‘In recognition that evidence from doctors may be more difficult to collect, many providers allowed students to self-certify illnesses.

‘Where appropriate, some providers expanded this to cover circumstances unrelated to Covid-19.’ 

On top of that, unlike in normal years when late work would be penalised by capped marks, the report said: ‘If assessments were submitted late, they could still be awarded the full range of marks rather than be capped.’

The leap came as undergraduates mainly studied from home as institutions moved online from mid-March last year (stock image)

The leap came as undergraduates mainly studied from home as institutions moved online from mid-March last year (stock image)

In addition, the ‘high volume of coursework-based assessment throughout the 2019-20 academic year likely contributed to an uplift in student outcomes’.

Chris Hale, of Universities UK, defended the measures, saying institutions made ‘breakthroughs with online teaching’ and students’ ‘hard work and focus are also likely to have played a part’.

But Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, accused universities of ‘devaluing the currency’ of degrees.

Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, added: ‘Over a third of firsts and over 80 per cent getting at least an upper-second is truly astonishing.

‘It completely undermines the value of the degree since it no longer accurately tells candidates apart.’

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