However, it is not the purpose of this paper to examine these in detail. Instead, it will present two perspectives. The first agrees that standards are in decline and suggests some of the reasons for this: that technology enables increased academic cheating leading to a lowering of skills gained by students; that some institutions are lowering their pass standards in order to retain students; and that the cost of a degree forces too many students into part-time work and away from their studies.
The opposite perspective asks whether these factors have the greatest impact when competition for university places is constantly on the increase, and industry demand for graduates is also very high. It also argues that ‘academic’ skills and standards are increasingly being replaced by ‘vocational’ or pragmatic skills and standards by both the new universities and by employers. Stuart Dent 2 Falling Standards The first issue that has an effect on university standards is that of the use of technology for cheating.
Recent surveys (such as that conducted by the Association of Teachers and lecturers reported in BBC News, Jan 2008) suggest that that plagiarism is on the rise, in large part due to the ease with which computer technology allows copying of other people’s work. For the tuned, the act of plagiarism means they are not gaining the skills and knowledge they would through a proper academic approach. In 2004, 25% of university students admitted committing plagiarism to some degree although more were suspected of cheating.
Now over 80% of higher education institutions use “Turning”, a plagiarism detection programmer which sends out alerts if a copy has been made. (Education Guardian, 2006) There has also been a rise in student’s buying ‘off-the-shelf’ essays. This is a relatively new service run by certain websites where student can log on, tell a specialist what hey are meant to be covering in an essay, and for a small fee, the essay is sent directly to them. This is problematic for all parties involved even reaching out to potential employers.
The student will lack the various skills that the university has promised to provide and therefore they go into the work place ill-equipped for the job. The second issue falls on the other side of the grading equation: the falling standards in assignment marking. A recent case at Vermouth University alerted external examiners to the possibility of seriously falling standards in assignment marking. A Professor Backhand ailed a quarter of his students because he deemed their work not of university standard, and the externals agreed.
However, another member of university staff stepped in and graded the papers so all the students passed. (Alderman, 2008) This case highlights the potential problems involved in individual institutions awarding their own degrees not set to a national standard. A third issue with an impact on falling standards in student writing, and their work in general, is the subject of money and fees. University fees for the 2008/2009 academic year stand at E,145 for EX. students and E,200 for Stuart Dent 3 international students at all institutions (AAAS,2008). Nowadays, students have to pay their own fees.
For those choosing to go to university despite the cost, the danger is that part-time work will over-shadow studying as students will be forced to work long hours in order to pay their bills. On a student website a member asked whether it was worth becoming a prostitute in order to pay off their debts and a third of the 1 32 voters agreed that they would. (Guardian Notebook, 2008). Although this is an extreme case, it highlights the point that standards may fall as students are forced to spend all their study mime at work in order to fund their university experience.
Rising Standards In contrast to the last issue raised, it seems that the EH a year fees have not put students off applying for university for the academic year 2008/09. There has been an 8% rise in applications since last year meaning that competition for places in higher education is very high. This year Oxford had to turn away approximately 5000 students who achieved three Ass in their A- levels. Bristol and Manchester Universities also reported similar situations (Curtis, 2008).
The high cost of attending university brings up the possibility hat, outside an elite of students from high-income families, only people who really intend to do well in higher education will pay. Despite the fact that critics argue A-Levels are getting easier because a record number of students are achieving top grades (Ibid), it can also be assumed that more teenagers are working harder for the top grade in order to get into university. With more students applying for university, places are harder to come by; more students want to prove that they are good enough to be accepted.
With this rise in A-Level achievers, universities are putting up their offer grades for prospective students. Traditionally the top universities would offer a student a place as long as they achieved three A grades at A-Level Stuart Dent 4 which is a total of 360 AAAS points. This year, with the standard of students so high, some courses at places like Cambridge have a ISAACS point average of 552 which means that people are getting at least four Ass and one B.
A second indicator of rising standards is that university graduates are still considered valuable assets to major companies. Competition for graduate jobs is also at a record high. With a large percentage of young people having degrees there can be several hundred applications for one job. Large corporate companies like Merlin and Lloyd TTS now run successful graduate schemes in order to train people to be an asset to their company, proving that graduate input to these businesses is invaluable.
Graduates are accepted onto the schemes dependent on passing a series of assessment test that can be grueling and highly skills based. Without a university education, these tests would be near impossible, showing off that the graduates coming out with degrees are well trained and are capable of contributing to a large company. A further development which may seem to have an impact on the employability of university graduates, and hence give evidence to the high standards they achieve, is the growth in new universities providing vocational courses.
Vocational courses are favored and praised by employers in the industry as they take the pressure off employers to train new employees, and students are getting a wider knowledge of their chosen area, meaning they are better informed to make business decisions (The Times, 2008). This is not in any way condemning the more traditional degrees; It simply shows that universities are producing more ‘all-round’ graduates, capable of going into a wide range of industries. In their nature, vocational qualifications depend less on traditional academic standards for their evaluation.
A vocational course, whether technical or creative, may rely much more on practical evaluations such as lab reports, experiment records or portfolios that encourage students to participate in and develop the kind of work-specific tasks and skills they will need to go on to industry. Stuart Dent 5 Some academics may criticism the newer types of institutions offering vocational degrees, arguing that these devalue the core degrees (science, geography, history etc). However, university league tables show that the odder university is very popular.
Further, the types of qualification and skills provided by these universities are vital to modern industry. Less Ebbed, Vice- chancellor of Bedsore’s University argues, The UK has the largest creative sector in the ELI. The creative industries account for 7. 3 per cent of the economy. Innovation-active universities have played a major role in contributing to the success of the creative industries, by providing graduate- level education. The creative economy has been a key driver in the reevaluating of cities and regions previously reliant on manufacturing industry.
The Government should work with partners to challenge popular misconceptions that some creative industry courses are academically trivial and lack professional relevance. (Times, 2008) Formerly lower-ranking institutions such as Nottingham Trend, Napier and Southampton Silent are beginning to make more of an impression on league tables with more students going straight into jobs after graduation and scoring higher in teaching criteria. Southampton Silent University in particular has climbed 8 places on The Times Good University Guide with a 71% student satisfaction rate (The Times, 2008).
In the context of traditional academic standards, and specifically academic writing, it could be argued that vocational education leads to a dropping or lowering of standards, given the emphasis on more practical forms of assessment. However, the opposing and very persuasive argument is that what is represented is not a drop of standards, but a change in expectations to reflect a much more pragmatic approach to what a well- rounded and work-able university graduate is capable of. The high demands of the workplace, and the expectation that graduates enter it skilled for employment make a shifting of standards inevitable. Stuart Dent 6
The Future The rise of the ‘new’ university means that the shape of higher education is changing and developing. Students are encouraged to be more creative, express their own opinions and explore what they want out of their careers. Academics may not approve but employers do and this is proved by the fact that vocational students are coming out of university and getting jobs. There will always be jobs for people who come out of Oxford and Cambridge with good traditional degrees but national industries are becoming more rounded due to the wide variety of people graduating and people do attend university in order to get the job they want.
As a result, commercial forces may dictate that, rather than seeking graduates who have well rounded academic writing skills, they will be looking for graduates who can show evidence of skills that have a much more direct application in any given specific field of employment. The increase in technology-enabled cheating may not have such a dramatic impact on the quality of graduates as has been feared. Stuart Dent 7 Conclusion The increase in plagiarism nationally could signify that the standard Of some students’ work has dropped dramatically. Instances of university departments lowering their pass standards also suggest this.
However, the increasing variety of both traditional and vocational courses leads to a change in university teaching and assessment, and a change in expectation of what skills a well-rounded university graduate should achieve. As the emphasis on skills moves from academic to practical, the threat of academic cheating is lessened. This is emphasized by the fact that graduates are increasingly in demand from industry because of the skills they bring to the workforce. In this country, the growing cost on individual students taking degrees has meant that more students need to take on work during their studies.
This also seems to pose a risk to students’ academic standards. However, the rise in competition for university places and graduate jobs means the students are constantly competing against each other and have to gain high marks in order to be noticed. The standard of academic writing among British students is not falling, it is changing.