Westminster Higher Education Forum

The future for degree classification in the UK

Morning, Tuesday, 10th December 2019

Central London


This seminar will examine priorities for protecting the value and long-term sustainability of the UK degree classification system.

The conference will be an opportunity to discuss the statement of intent signed by sector representative groups, which commits providers to taking practical steps to protect the value of qualifications.

Delegates will consider implementation of the actions outlined in the statement, which followed consultation on the recommendations of the Degree classification: transparent, consistent and fair academic standards report published by UUK, GuildHE and the QAA, including:

  • Ensuring assessments are appropriately challenging and fair for students;
  • Reviewing and clarifying degree classification algorithms;
  • Revisiting policies on both external and internal moderation, and supporting the training and development of academics as external examiners; and
  • Publishing data on student outcomes.

Delegates will assess strategies for the clarification and putting in place of shared sector criteria for degree classification.

They will examine approaches to the design and rationale of degree algorithms so as to ensure that they comply with qualification frameworks and accurately reflect student performance against assessment criteria, in addition to making sure that justification of algorithms is publicly accessible.

With the statement of intent emphasising the importance of external assessment in protecting the value of qualifications, delegates will also consider measures to strengthen the independence and rigor of external examiners, including:

  • reviewing policies on moderation and supporting opportunities for subject calibration activities, and
  • building on the Advance HE training to support the professional development of assessors.

Attendees will address the challenges of managing the improvement in degree outcomes, which has been termed ‘grade inflation’ by some within the sector.

It follows the recent publication of data by the Office for Students showing a continuing upward trend in the proportion of top degrees awarded, with the proportion of first-class honours degrees almost doubling between 2011 and 2018.

We expect discussion to reflect possible underlying drivers of improvement in outcomes, including investment, increasingly motivated students, new approaches to course delivery, and pressure on outcomes as a result of the Teaching Excellence Framework.

Further sessions will consider the possible future role of the Office for Students in regulating degree classification and outcomes - and its implications for the quality of UK higher education and institutional autonomy. 

It comes with the OfS recently approaching providers with the most significant grade increases to ask for information that helps to account for the changes to results.

Keynote Speakers

Susan Lapworth

Director, Competition and Registration, Office for Students

Professor Andrew Wathey

Chair, UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment and Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Northumbria University

Douglas Blackstock

Chief Executive, QAA


Meg Price

Vice President Education, Worcester Students’ Union