In his multifaceted critique of higher education in The Australian yesterday, Adam Creighton makes one infrequently-made claim: that ‘grade inflation is rife’.
In Australia we often worry about soft marking at the pass-fail point, which Adam also mentions. But grade inflation controversies overseas are about too many students receiving high marks. In England, an increase in the proportion of students receiving first-class degrees from 16% in 2010-11 to 29% by 2017-18 has attracted the regulator’s attention. In the United States, critics complain that ‘A’ is the most popular grade.
Australian universities are not required to report student marks, and so we cannot conclusively confirm or reject the grade inflation hypothesis. But the figures we have do not look overly-skewed to the top.
In a paper looking at the relationship between ATAR and socioeconomic status, the NSW Universities Admission Centre earlier this year reported on first-year university grade point averages (GPA). They used a 7 point scale for their GPA.
The UAC’s main point is that ATAR rather than SES best predicts GPA. But it is striking that even the most able first-year students, coming into universities with ATARs of 90 or above, averaged less than a credit grade.Read More »
University finances have been in the news this year. As the travel ban on Chinese students was announced some very big financial costs were estimated – since moderated due to the third-country quarantine exception, but still estimated to be well over $1 billion, at least in temporary cash flow issues.
In worst-case COVID-19 scenarios there would be travel bans from many international student source countries, along with campus closures that could require refunds or compensating classes for affected domestic and international students.
While I doubt the worst-case scenario will become reality, the ‘rivers of gold’ era (as Simon Birmingham once described it) for university revenue is over.
Even before COVID-19 international student demand seemed to be softening, while remaining high by historical standards.
On top of this, all public universities are dealing with a decline in the real value of their bachelor-degree student funding, and some are struggling to maintain domestic student numbers due to soft demand.
Cutbacks have been reported at many universities including Wollongong, La Trobe, Sydney, Macquarie, Monash, and in the last day the University of Tasmania.
Fortunately, the universities that are most exposed to the China market are relatively wealthy. They should be able to deal with short-term liquidity issues from a mix of reduced and delayed spending, drawing on reserves and perhaps bank borrowing. But what if a university faces more serious difficulties?Read More »
In promoting the government’s international women’s day STEM announcement, science minister Karen Andrews is reported as stressing that ’75 per cent of the jobs in the fastest-growing industries need STEM skills’. This is a variant on a common claim. In the same article, it also appears as 75 per cent of all occupations, as it has here, here, here, here, here and in many other places. The industries version is less common but still a regular claim, for example here, here, and here.
The original source of this 75 per cent claim has always been hard to find. Some government documents cite this 2015 PwC report. But it does not have any data supporting this number, giving this 2011 article in the Journal of STEM Education as its source. Unfortunately the article does not substantiate the claim either, other than by pointing to this 2007 US Department of Education report. But the report does not mention the 75 per cent statistic at all, and so the trail goes cold.*
Even without checking the claim’s provenance it sounds suspect. How do we define fastest? Top 10, top 20, top half? It would be easy to manipulate the list to produce the desired result. And then there is the distinction between fastest growing (as a percentage of previous levels) and greatest growth (absolute numbers of jobs). Occupations can easily have very high percentage growth rates if they start from a low base, while in absolute terms adding many fewer jobs than larger occupations growing by a smaller annual percentage. Read More »