University Course Standards
|Graduating with good grades - but how high are standards?
Inside Out South presents a special 30 minute programme investigating
universities and academic course standards.
An undercover BBC investigation is set to reveal how university lecturers
can feel pressurised to pass poor quality work.
BBC South's Inside Out programme (Monday, October 31, BBC One South)
contains secretly filmed footage of a senior academic stating that she
operates a "positive pass policy".
Dr Karen Randell, who runs the Film Studies Degree at Southampton Solent
University, also admits that 25% of her students should not be at university.
She says: "We are kind of remedial teachers at some level. These
people have been failures all their lives. That is why we hold back. Why
we don't automatically say it's failed.
"We have to really make a big decision that it's failed. I am not
saying we are not going to fail some of yours. But it is not the first
thing that we think of.
"Even though you can see this is absolutely rubbish, you have to
look at the wider picture."
In the secretly filmed footage, Dr Randell also explains how she gets
"challenged from the top" if she fails students. "It's
all about business.
"t's got nothing to do with education or pedagogy or anything. This
is the cynical real world of higher education."
The BBC put its allegations to the university a month ago and provided
the transcripts of key extracts from its footage.
The university declined to be interviewed for the programme, but did
issue a statement, detailed below.
Inside Out showed anonymous copies of some of the student essays to academics.
They confirmed that work of a similar quality is being passed at other
The programme also includes secretly filmed footage of a marking meeting
for the Film Studies course, where a senior lecturer passes student essays
that she describes as "crap" and "illiterate".
Jennifer Toynbee-Holmes admits that grades are inflated to fit in with
the system. She says: "If we didn't care about how many students
we had and how many dropped out, we would mark very differently.
If we were really marking according to what we felt, we would drop a
grade for everybody I would say." Jennifer Toynbee-Holmes is also
filmed putting pressure on a colleague to pass an essay that both of them
think has been plagiarised.
As well as writing essays, the first year students on the 16mm Film Production
unit were also asked to make a film.
The film was supposed to be two to four minutes long, but one group of
students passed even though their film was just one minute long.
|Are University courses always up to scratch?
Inside Out presenter Chris Packham says that the programme raises serious
questions about the Government's expansion of higher education.
"Universities up and down the country are now accepting a much wider
range of students. Some of them don't appear to have the academic skills
they need for a degree course," he says.
Nobody from the Government was available to be interviewed for the programme,
but the Department for Education said in a statement, "Despite massive
expansion of student numbers over the last decade, the financial returns
to Higher Education have remained strong.
"It is right that we try to get more money into our universities
to fund expansion - all talented young people, whatever their background,
should have the chance to engage in good quality higher education.
"For many, especially those from poorer backgrounds, it can be a
life-changing opportunity, and the best route to a secure future."
The programme makers showed their secret filming to Chris Woodhead, the
former chief inspector of schools who is now a professor at the University
of Buckingham, who said he was staggered by the footage.
"I think this film is immensely important because it is the first
time that someone has exposed the conversations that go on in these examination
"It shows what a nonsense higher education is now. It's a vast waste
of taxpayers' money. I just feel for young people, who are wasting three
years of their lives, who are ending up with a degree which won't have
any intellectual meaning and which won't have any currency in the workplace."
Written statement from Southampton Solent University
"We chose not to be interviewed for Inside Out because we believe
the programme and the way it was made falls so far short of the expected
BBC standards of accuracy and openness that there was no possibility of
a fair hearing, let alone establishing the truth.
"In spite of repeated requests we have not been shown the material
on which the allegations are based.
"In the very short time that we have been given we have had the
matter investigated. We have found no evidence to support the allegations.
We are certain that the comments of dedicated and conscientious staff
have been grossly misrepresented.
"Our staff completely reject the interpretation placed upon the
selective excerpts taken from conversations that were secretly filmed
without their knowledge or consent.
"They feel intruded upon, angry and deceived by someone they believed
was just an inexperienced colleague whom they were attempting to support.
"We are proud of our staff and our students. We remain confident
about our standards. But we question those of Inside Out."