Increasing numbers of degree students gaining first and upper second class degrees has been the subject of much discussion about putative grade inflation over the past few years.
Ensuring that degrees do not lose their value over time is now a condition of continued registration with the Office for Students (OfS) for higher education providers in England and the TEF now requires institutions to address grade inflation data. In addition, the UK standing Committee on Quality Assessment is currently consulting on a sector statement about how to protect the value of the honours degree qualifications over time. Strengthened external examining is one way of ensuring against the erosion of academic standards.
The Degree Standards project
The Degree Standards project, led by Advance HE, and managed by the Office for Students on behalf of the English, Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations, has developed professional development packages for external examiners.
Firstly, a Professional Development Course (PDC) for external examiners has been successfully developed with eight higher education institutions and adopted by a further 17 others with a view to training their own staff as external examiners on an ongoing basis. A Develop the Developer programme has been designed to facilitate this. An online version of the course has also been successfully piloted.
Secondly, activities designed to calibrate academic standards at subject level have been devised with professional bodies such as the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry. In addition, eleven institutions are involved in a North-West Consortium offering courses which integrate both professional development and calibration exercises. Over 1200 academic staff have been trained so far.
If you are interested in joining the project, which is currently free, please contact: External.Examining@advance-he.ac.uk
More about the project
The Degree Standards project, which is led by Advance HE and managed by the Office for Students on behalf of England and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales, is exploring, across those three nations, sector-owned processes focusing on professional development for external examiners. The purpose of this five-year project is to:
• design, pilot and deliver different approaches to the professional development of external examiners
• propose evidence-based and cost-effective longer-term approaches to the professional development of external examiners operating across the higher education system in England, Northern Ireland and Wales
• explore approaches to the calibration of standards, presenting recommendations for future work in this area.
During 2017-18, we are:
• working with 19 higher education providers as ‘early adopters’ to deliver the professional development course;
• trialling and running the ‘develop the developer’ programme for those who intend to roll out the course inside institutions, including eight partnering institutions and ‘early adopters’;
• holding four regional courses across the four nations;
• launching the online version of the course, and running four online cohorts;
• exploring approaches to the calibration of academic standards in subject areas through a north-west regional consortium of higher education providers, and through working with professional bodies and subject associations;
• evaluating the longer-term impact of the course and associated calibration activities.
Find out more about the development work from this project briefing.