University grade inflation fears as tutors ignore poor English

Can’t spell? You can still get a FIRST: University grade inflation fears as tutors ignore poor English in policies to drive ‘inclusivity’, watchdog finds

  •  Regulators have said universities are causing rampant grade inflation
  • Office for Students said assessors had ignored poor spelling and grammar
  • Institutions claim requiring decent level of English would discriminate against migrants

Universities are causing rampant grade inflation by ignoring poor spelling and grammar under policies to drive ‘inclusivity’, regulators say.

The Office for Students said tutors across the sector are wrongly using the Equality Act to give undergraduates top marks even if they cannot write to a good enough standard.

Institutions claim requiring a decent level of English would discriminate against migrants. The watchdog found some universities are banning tutors from assessing writing proficiency in ‘most instances’.

It said the trend will lead to employers having to put up with graduates who are ‘unable to perform written tasks to an appropriate standard’.

Universities are causing rampant grade inflation by ignoring poor spelling and grammar under policies to drive ‘inclusivity’, regulators say (stock image)

And it also warned the policies would end up disadvantaging students with poor English as it will limit employment prospects. The OfS today urges universities to reinstate writing guidelines in most subjects or face fines for an ‘erosion’ of standards.

Susan Lapworth, director of regulation, said: ‘Some universities and colleges ask academics to ignore poor spelling, punctuation and grammar to make assessment more inclusive. It threatens to undermine standards as well as public confidence in the value of a degree.’

She said the OfS would start punishing universities from next autumn if they continue to ‘lack rigour’. ‘The common features we have seen in assessment policies suggest that poor spelling, punctuation and grammar may be accepted across the sector,’ she added.

The report’s authors visited a sample of unnamed universities and found many were citing the Equality Act as a reason to allow bad written English. One institution said deducting marks for spelling would violate the rights of those whose ‘first language is not English’.

The Office for Students said tutors across the sector are wrongly using the Equality Act to give undergraduates top marks even if they cannot write to a good enough standard (stock image)

Another institution demands students be ‘clearly informed’ that they will not lose marks for poor language as long as it does not ‘detract from the meaning’.

The report said the trend was likely to be contributing to ‘unexplained’ grade inflation, which has seen the proportion of students awarded at least a 2:1 climb from 67 per cent to 79 per cent in just eight years.

It added: ‘If the policies identified in this report are leading to students getting higher marks than they otherwise would… then this not only undermines the rigour of assessment processes, but also contributes to unexplained grade inflation.’

And it added that ignoring poor standards would end up negating ‘social benefit’ and also cheat taxpayers.

Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said: ‘There is no evidence in what has been presented [in the report] to suggest the practices causing concern are the norm.’

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