Grade inflation and academic standards


Sir, – Considering how much coverage your newspaper gives to education, the shallowness of your analysis (in your editorial “Keeping an eye on standards” of January 3rd) of “grade inflation” in Irish third-level institutions, and the implied suggestion that our quality systems are somewhat lacking, is surprising.

Anyone who has been following developments in higher education over the last couple of decades will be aware of the huge changes that have occurred in that sector.

From semesterisation and modularisation to the adoption of the learning outcomes philosophy, to the increased use of continuous assessment and a reduced reliance on terminal exams, to the provision of online course materials, to the increased transparency surrounding assessments, to the transformation of “lecturing” into “teaching”, to the proliferation of quality assurance processes, to the heightened expectations of students themselves, the higher education system has changed utterly.

Gone are the days when the reluctance to award marks over 70 per cent in many disciplines was little more than a fetish and not based on any clearly articulated criteria as to what a first-class honours answer should look like. – Yours, etc,


Associate Professor,

Bioprocess Engineering,

School of Biotechnology,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – Having written scores of references for third-level students in the last decade, by far the most usual information requested, especially for postgraduate study, is not the grade but the percentile score of the student. Referees are not asked did Student A get for example a 2.2. or 2.1 degree. They are requested to provide more universally-meaningful information, such as for example that Student A came in the top 10 per cent of her or his class. Very often though such information is not available to students or referees. Data on the size and quality of the class (eg entry points) add further important context. Providing such information tackles, at least partially, the issue of grade inflation. – Yours, etc,


Emeritus Professor

of Economics,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – It’s interesting to see your editorial on grade inflation and Patricia Mulkeen’s letter “Do we need another university?” (January 3rd) side-by-side on my screen.

Ms Mulkeen’s point regarding jobs previously requiring a Leaving Certificate now available only to graduates is well taken.

Regardless of the reasons for grade inflation, in about 10 years, jobs that today are available only to those with a bachelor’s degree will require a master’s degree. – Yours, etc,





A chara, – Most students after sitting the Leaving Certificate now attend college and expect, increasingly as of right, a high honours degree award. Upon entry to third level, many expect that they will not have to complete secondary reading, besides the course textbook, for an honours degree. Against this backdrop, it is not credible for the Higher Education Authority and Quality and Qualifications Ireland to deny that there is a problem.

Third-level lecturers know that too many students are not applying themselves to their academic work.

So how then can grades be steadily increasing unless standards are being lowered? Post-college student employment is not a measure of academic degree quality.

If standards do not matter then why bother indicating the class of degree?

Administrators of our education system are not thinking critically and need to attend to academic grade inflation before Ireland’s academic reputation is affected. – Is mise,



University Dublin,

(Tallaght Campus)

Dublin 24.