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External examiners and the continuing inflation of UK undergraduate geography degree results

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The percentage of ‘good’ (first or 2.1) geography degrees in the UK has risen from around 40 per cent in the early 1970s to 71 per cent in 2010. The likely reasons for this are discussed in detail. Each university has its own weighting and variant scheme to calculate the final degree results but there is little evidence of consistency within or among universities. The role of undergraduate external examiners is discussed including their need to create a ‘level playing field’ at a time when their role is rapidly changing and their influence is declining. Borderline cases between degree classes are increasingly being pre‐classified automatically and the days of vivas and adjusting marks are long gone in most universities. Nevertheless undergraduate external examiners should continue to be concerned at the continuing rise in the percentage of ‘good’ degrees and they need to be aware of the comparative ‘good’ degree statistics, over a number of years, in the departments they are examining for. A new scheme is proposed to circulate to all undergraduate external examiners in geography an annual table of the percentage of ‘good’ degrees across the country. There will be an increasing shift in emphasis from external examiners moderating the results of individual students to moderating the marks of individual courses. The likely impact on external examiners of both the higher education achievement reports (HEARs) and the likely introduction of grade point averages (GPAs) to replace traditional degree classifications, are also discussed and a new hybrid degree classification system, that is easy to understand for employers, is presented.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01077.x

Affiliations: School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT.

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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