Top grades double for students at the state’s largest universities

“In addition, the universities are more supportive and intervene more quickly. Also, failures – which often stem from a lack of commitment and not choosing the right course – are now less likely.”

Defaults at UNSW fell from 5.5 percent in 2011 to 3 percent in 2021.


A University of Sydney spokesman said a decision in 2012 to map grades to an academic standard – rather than fitting them to a normal distribution curve – spurred the changes in grading.

“We think a standards-based assessment model is more consistent and fair, as it means that all of our students have to meet a certain standard in order to achieve a certain grade,” the spokesperson said, noting that the pandemic and the transition are having an impact Online tests would have resulted in discrepancies in grades.

Andrew Norton, a university researcher at ANU, said grades reported in 2021 were “not seriously skewed upwards” as has been the case in the UK, where grade inflation has led to crackdowns on providers after students would have awarded first-class awards Between 2011 and 2021, the degree doubled to 38 percent.

Raised grades — where students are given grades above those who may be entitled — are more likely to pass or fail than at the high end of the scale, Norton said.


“I don’t think grade inflation is a big problem, but it’s clear that there has been a non-negligible increase in high honors and accolades. This coincides with a tougher job market for recent college graduates, providing an incentive to keep good grades.”

More high-performing students could also enroll, Norton said. “And the stakes have gone up, so it’s not crazy to think that students are asking academics for grades more often.”

Pressure to give good grades to protect graduate talent could also be a factor, especially as competition in the industry intensifies.

A University of Sydney spokesman said grade shifts between 2011 and 2021 reflected the shift to online assessments during the pandemic. “We are now aiming for a return to supervised face-to-face exams for our students,” they said.

Most universities offered students more flexibility in applying for academic consideration during the pandemic, which impacted results. However, data from Wollongong University shows that the disparities and high disparities have steadily increased since 2015.

Craig Mellare, a lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School who conducts a survey of assessment practices, said the rise in GPAs is worrying.

“Students could be more capable, so it’s important to look at the ATARs and other factors that could affect that. But I think the number of appeals — and the propensity for students to appeal their grades — is increasing,” he said.

Simon Marginson, a college professor at Oxford, said it’s difficult to say whether the rise in top grades at some overseas colleges is due to better work or increased consumer pressure from students at universities. “Certainly today’s high-performing students are academically very good,” he said.

A spokesman for the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Agency confirmed that it had received four letters this year with concerns about grade inflation, relating to two providers.

“Two of these matters require further evaluation as we have identified a potential risk of non-compliance with the framework for higher education standards,” the spokesman said.

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Justin Scaccy

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