Academic Standards for Higher Education in the United Kingdom

Concern exists about possible grade inflation. It is claimed that academics are under increasing pressure from administrators to award students good marks and grades with little regard for those students' actual abilities, in order to maintain their league table rankings. It is also claimed that academics who enforce rigorous standards risk receiving poor student course evaluations. The percentage of graduates who receive a First has grown from 7% in 1997 to 26% in 2017, with the rate of growth sharply accelerating toward the end of this period. A 2018 study by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment concluded that improvements in faculty skill and student motivation are only two of many factors driving average grades upward, that grade inflation is real, that the British undergraduate degree classifications will become less useful to students and employers, and that inflation will undermine public confidence in the overall value of higher education. Students already believe that a First or upper Second, by itself, is no longer sufficient to secure a good job, and that they need to engage in extra-curricular activities to build their CV.

Another concern is that the government has pressured universities to take more applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds and to increase diversity in their student population, forcing them to divert resources to diversity efforts and away from research and education, thereby leading to a decline in their positions in the Times Higher Education international reputation ranking. Other experts, however, link this decline to problems getting visas for international staff and lack of investment.

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) regularly reviews all UK universities to ensure standards are maintained. It is also responsible for producing subject benchmark statements and descriptions of the different degree levels (foundation, bachelor's master's and doctorates). The QAA also certifies that British degrees (with the exception of Oxbridge MAs, which it does not consider to be academic degrees) meet the level descriptors for the Bologna process, with the caveat that initial medical degrees are at master's level but retain the name of bachelor's degrees for historical reasons and that similarly the MAs of "a small number of universities" in Scotland are at bachelor's level. In some subjects (particularly those with associated chartered status), professional bodies also accredit degrees, e.g. the Institute of Physics accredits physics degrees.