Since its inception in 2016, UKSCQA has led on programmes of work that support better comparability of degree standards. This has included work with the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on the professional development of External Examiners, and a project with Universities UK (UUK) and GuildHE that studied the use of degree classification algorithms across the sector.

In 2018, UKSCQA launched a programme of work to explore and manage grade inflation, which has been taken forward by Universities UK, GuildHE and QAA on behalf of the full committee.

Managing grade inflation

In January 2018, UKSCQA launched a programme of work to explore the complex issues surrounding grade improvement and inflation. The programme has been designed to:

  • clarify grade classification boundaries in use across the sector
  • make recommendations for the inclusion of criteria in credit and qualification frameworks
  • investigate drivers for the historical increases in the proportion of good degree outcomes across the UK
  • propose a framework for how autonomous and diverse institutions working with funders and regulators can collectively control the risks of sector-wide grade inflation.

It will produce the following outputs:

  • sector-agreed criteria for degree classifications to appear in qualification frameworks
  • information for students, employers and the public about degree classifications and how they are managed by institutions and the sector
  • guidance for institutions in controlling grade inflation and recommendations on UK-wide and national measures to manage risks.

This programme, which was taken forward by UUK, GuildHE and QAA on behalf of the full committee, has resulted in a series of proposals as set out in the report Degree classifications: consistent and fair academic standards. This is underpinned by research undertaken by Dr Ray Bachan of the University of Brighton.

These proposals are designed to achieve outcomes that will take strong action to address grade inflation, ensure the continued sustainability and comparability of the UK’s degree classification system and, in doing so, address the current and future risks to the value of a UK degree.

UKSCQA are currently running a consultation on these proposals, which is being coordinated by QAA on behalf of UKSCQA.

Respond to the consultation via the QAA website

Support for external examiners

From October 2016, HEA have been working across the UK to facilitate a sector-owned process focusing on professional development for external examiners.

The project has two interrelated parts:

  • working with higher education providers to design and deliver a generic professional development course for external examiners
  • exploring different approaches to subject-specific calibration of standards with external examiners.

Professional development of external examiners

The external examiner professional development work will deliver a generic external examiner professional development course with a variety of higher education providers. In year 1, the reach of the project was extensive, with 250+ academic staff completing the course across more than 50 higher education providers. These providers represented all mission groups and nations. The course has been adapted as a result of piloting undertaken in year 1.

Current activity includes:

  • continued delivery of an external examiner professional development course with a variety of higher education providers, at regional courses, and online
  • creating a ‘develop the developer’ method, in which institutions will be supported to continue delivery of the professional development course.

Calibration of standards

The subject-specific calibration of standards work includes:

  • working with a range of subject associations and Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) to pilot approaches to the calibration of standards. Current partners include the Royal Geographical Society, Conservatoires UK, and the Veterinary Schools Council
  • exploring other possible approaches to the calibration of standards, for example calibration based in individual institutions or regional consortia.

Read further information on the project.

HEA are undertaking this work on behalf of the four UK higher education funding bodies/regulators. UKSCQA is overseeing the work.


Degree classification algorithms

UUK, with support from GuildHE, undertook a UK-wide piece of research into the algorithms used by the higher education sector to determine honours degree classifications. This research was overseen by UKSCQA and involved systematic mapping of evidence on degree algorithms, as well as surveying and undertaking focus groups with institutions across the UK higher education sector. It sought to:

  • explain existing practices and trends in relation to the design of degree algorithms in the UK higher education sector
  • support institutional decision making on algorithms in the context of evolving quality assessment arrangements across the UK.

Based upon surveys from over 70% of all UK degree awarding providers, and a further 15 interviews to understand exceptions and practices across the sector, the final report made the following recommendations:

  • higher education providers should ensure that their degree algorithms are transparent and accessible for students, staff and external stakeholders
  • processes and rationales for changing degree algorithms should be transparent and led by robust academic governance arrangements
  • principles of good practice for the design, development and review of degree algorithms should be considered for inclusion in a revised Quality Code to guide institutional decision-making
  • institutions should ensure that the rules governing the assessment of borderline cases do not inadvertently lower the threshold for degree classifications across the student population
  • further work needs to be done to understand long-term drivers of grade improvement and inflation and to develop sustainable measures that can mitigate sector-wide grade improvement.

Read the final report