Distinction and Diversity in Higher Education

Understanding Degree Algorithms


Degree algorithms are the sets of rules that institutions follow to determine a student’s final degree classification. Their design plays an important role in the measuring and classifying of student attainment. 

GuildHE and Universities UK have published a new report, summarising the findings of a joint research project into the configuration of degree algorithms. The report looks specifically at the design of degree algorithms, and why institutions make changes​ to their algorithms. Finally, it makes recommendations to help improve transparency and maintain confidence in sector standards. There is a UK-wide interest in maintaining robust academic standards and understanding the drivers behind the long-term improvement in degree outcomes, while national funding bodies and regulators must also make arrangements to assure themselves of the quality of the education that they fund.​​​

Speaking on the report’s publication, Professor Joy Carter, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Winchester and Chair GuildHE said:

“UK higher education is extremely high-quality, and we are committed to maintaining confidence in this well-earned reputation. Our research shines a light on practices within institutions, which whilst robust would benefit from greater transparency and accountability. This research arose out of concerns surrounding grade inflation and a perception that institutions were gaming the system to improve their grade profiles. Our extensive research found little evidence of this as a driver for changes to degree algorithms. However we do make a number of recommendations surrounding the tightening-up of practices at classification boundaries and increased transparency of these algorithms to students to provide further reassurances.”

Professor Debra Humphris, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton and Chair of the UUK Student Policy Network said:

“A university degree is the ultimate record of academic attainment and has the confidence of students and employers. As a diverse and autonomous sector it is essential that we maintain this confidence through robust processes for assessing and classifying student outcomes.This report reinforces the fact that no single approach is right for all universities and their students. Equally, in an increasingly diverse sector this report does identify common approaches to the design of degree algorithms and where certain practices could undermine confidence in academic standards. Degree algorithms are only one part of a complex picture behind the long-term increase in the proportion of ‘good degrees’ and more work will be required to understand the various reasons and solutions. This report will help universities ensure that the design of degree algorithms are transparent and based on sound principles of academic governance.”

Universities UK and GuildHE will work with the UK Standing Committee on Quality Assessment to embed the findings and recommendations of this report into the work of the sector. The report was supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales​ and the Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland). ​​

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