Are Universities mollycoddling students? An alternative to mass media’s interpretation of increasing first class degrees.

The press association surveys suggested that it is now more common for students to achieve a first class degree than it is to achieve a second class lower (2.2)

Teddy for uni 1st class

The BBC has decided to use to words of Nick Hillman- the head of the higher education policy institute to give a weighted, and in my opinion insulting, judgement as to why students are now achieving the best results at such a higher percentage than in previous years.

Mr Hillman suggests that the fact that universities can now award their own levels of degree grades means they are likely to give “as many firsts as they like” in order to make their university have a positive image and be higher on the university ladder and as a result have a higher chance of getting more funding.

Whilst this is logical to some extent, there are certainly more rational reasons to suggest this increase. Political and social changes have meant that it is now costing students around £9,250 (as of 2017) for higher education. Comparing the results of first class degrees in 1994 (seen below), it wouldn’t be wrong to argue that there could be a link between tuition fees being introduced in 1998 and escalating at a phenomenal rate in 19 years, and a number of 1st class degrees that have been on the rise since.  With the amount of stress and also the current job market situation, it means that unless you are aiming for a first and 2:1 it makes some students believe there is almost no point in getting a degree. This is even more apparent when looking for work, it’s clear that businesses are only interested in students who achieve marks at the high end of the spectrum. As a result, only those that believe they will achieve the top grades are more likely to go to university. Compared to 1994, this wouldn’t be the case, those that were unlikely to achieve would still consider university because of the opportunity of getting a degree as well as the lack of a backlash in monetary cost. (And also the maintenance grant which was basically free money for going to into higher education….imagine….a world where you basically get paid to go to university!)

The fact that the BBC has decided to take this stance and express this viewpoint is quite demeaning for students who do achieve high marks. The effort and sleepless nights making sure their dissertation is the best it could be is tarnished by the mass media claiming we are “give(n)” these degrees and not achieving them through merit and hard work. It is this type of attitude which keeps the idea of students being stereotypically seen as lazy and not having to work hard in society but instead goes into university for 8 hours per week and in the meantime, live off the taxpayer’s money. This perspective also brings up the idea of a university being a product which we pay for. If we pay this absurd money, then the university is going to be more lenient and gives us better grades, once again another institution that gives hints towards consumerism.

Another argument I would like to point out is the policies introduced regarding our age before leaving education. With age being lifted to 18, it gives young people more incentive and knowledge before going into higher education and those that necessarily didn’t want to go to university at 16 may see the benefits of such opportunity and takes the plunge into debt. As a result, more students are more likely to be ready and prepared for university life because of the increase of our leaving age from education.

1st class degree graph
Source: BBC

When I did some research into this, the number of students applying for university according to UCAS is actually decreasing. Compared to last year there has been a 5% decrease which also brings some interesting thoughts to this topic. Despite the lowering number of applications, there has been a phenomenal increase in 1st class degrees, which put two and two together, suggests that as mentioned above, only students who believe they are more capable of achieving higher grades will attend university because of the risk and debt that will face all students. Therefore it may not be the idea that students are being gifted these degrees as first mentioned in this post.

When looking at the HESA graph that was published in a BBC article last week (seen below), it does show a steady increase from 1994 to 2010- a rise of 7%. But from 2010 (when tuition fees trebled from £3K per year to £9K per year) the percentage of increase was 10%. These last seven years then have contributed to 60% of the overall increase over the past 23 years. Again, the dedication and risk that students must take and ultimately achieve are more than likely going to affect degree results and the level of applications more than just universities dishing out firsts class degrees.

Once again it seems that the mass media are trying to make darkness and what should be a light situation, especially because of the darkness university has been brought under thanks to all three of the main political parties. It isn’t simply a case of students feeling like now more than even they need to perform and those that feel they can’t won’t apply, but instead our higher education giving out basically false firsts in order for them to get a little higher on the university ladder, which I believe is hard to believe regardless. If every university is doing this then it will do nothing for their status. This is because those around them are dishing the firsts just as much as you are, meaning that both the university and the students will be affected negatively because of the value of the degree becoming useless as a result.





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