Scotland's Highers: Grade inflation means universities will have to start being more selective – John McLellan

It’s no surprise that hundreds of highly qualified school leavers are being turned away by top universities like Edinburgh because too many have achieved the required grades compared to the number of available places.

By John McLellan
Wednesday, 11th August 2021, 4:45 pm
With more pupils receiving A-grades at Highers, universities may need to find different ways to select students
With more pupils receiving A-grades at Highers, universities may need to find different ways to select students

Some grade inflation was inevitable after last year’s moderation fiasco, when it was clear there could be no turning back for fear of more accusations of selling young people short, but there were so many obvious flaws in this year’s system that the pass rate was bound to rocket.

Half of students have been given A passes compared to 30 per cent pre-Covid, and the genie is out the bottle because there would be outcry if passes were cut back to pre-Covid level.

As far as university entrance is concerned, there are three ways forward, the first being a total reform of the assessment system which would probably end up in the same discredited chaos as Curriculum for Excellence and make little difference anyway.

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The second is for universities to expand the number of places, and there was a 12 per cent increase and a record 32,580 new Scottish students this year, but with free tuition fees for Scottish students that comes at considerable cost.

There are also implications for teaching quality, with bigger numbers cutting contact hours because there aren’t enough staff.

The third is to regard school exam passes as a minimum requirement to apply, not to guarantee a place, which is effectively what Edinburgh does anyway and Oxford and Cambridge have done for years. Soon it will be standard practice.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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