The select committee on innovation, universities and science has suggested that universities are ‘dumbing down’ their degrees in a damning report on what it perceives to be slipping standards. The report points out that the proportion of graduates obtaining a first class degree has risen from 7.7 per cent in 1996/7 to 13.3 per cent in 2007/8.
It also found fault with the fact that a first from one university could have a different value to a first from another. To address these inconsistencies, the committee has called for the universities watchdog agency to be re-established with special monitoring standards.
The select committees’ findings have sparked a furious row between government and academia over whose responsibility it should be to monitor the quality of degrees. While the government’s report calls for a single measure of standards across all institutions, universities maintain that their responsibility to decide degree standards is essential to academic freedom and reject schemes to create a national curriculum for universities.
The committee criticised vice-chancellors for being unwilling or unable to answer questions about how much degrees were worth, identifying a culture of ‘defensive complacency.’