Accessibility statement

Degree Outcomes Statement

Students working in a group


Lead Author: Mike Bentley, Adrian Lee, Stephen Gow, Cecilia Lowe, Jen Wotherspoon, Jess Burchell, Patrick Gallimore and Daniel Baker

Notes and Documents:

Analysis of degree outcomes

The University undertakes an annual analysis of degree outcomes, with one of the metrics being the percentage of upper-classification (UC) degrees (= 1st and II.1) along with an analysis of sector trends, using HESA data. We also undertake regular detailed analyses of the correlation between student demographics and outcomes (eg attainment and progression). A data-visualisation tool provides an interactive analysis of how degree outcomes vary over time and, by graduating year, and of any correlation with the A-level entry grades (or equivalent) and other demographics, for that graduating cohort. Using these tools, and other data, we have analysed the last 7 years of graduating cohorts (2014-2020). We have chosen to start this analysis in 2014 since virtually all graduating students at York will, from 2014 onwards, have had their degrees classified under the same progression and award rules (those currently in place). The analysis has focused on the fraction (%) of all Level 6 (H-level, Bachelor) graduates who were awarded an upper-classification (UC) - ie first-class or upper-second-class - degree. Trends over the last seven years are in Figure 1.

Considering data across all subjects, the percentage of graduates awarded UC degrees (which we refer to as %UC) has seen only a very small increase over the last seven graduating cohorts - see Figure 1. A simple linear regression analysis yields a change in %UC (per year) of +0.25s. %UC for University of York has been higher than the median for all universities in the UK sector in this period (see Figure 1), although lower than the median for other Russell Group universities. 

Figure 1: Data for the percentage of students who graduated from the University of York with either a first-class or upper-second-class honours degree (= %UC) as a function of graduating year. 

Impact of Covid-19

Students graduating in 2020 were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in a number of ways, including a sudden switch to remote teaching and learning and the replacement of closed examinations with online, open, 24-hour assessments. There were, in addition, some changes to the award and progression rules which were designed to support students in this time of unprecedented change and recognise the challenges that our students were facing at the time of their assessments. The algorithm for calculation of degree class remained unchanged, and students were still required to pass all modules in their final stage (either outright or by compensation) to be eligible for graduation. However, the credit-weighted final stage mark, which feeds into the algorithm, was determined two ways for 2020 graduates: (a) the usual way, counting all final-stage assessments, or (b) a calculation based on 60-credits worth of assessments obtained prior to 13 March 2020 (the date before which we considered marks to be safe from the impact of the pandemic). The student was awarded the better of these two scores, and this approach was therefore termed the “University of York Safety Net”. Since the stage average feeds directly into the degree classification calculation, and the students are awarded the better of two stage average scores, this will have a naturally positive impact on overall degree classes when compared with the normal calculation. We have analysed the mathematical effect of this temporary change by modelling the graduating students’ outcomes with and without the safety-net applied. For Level-6 graduates (Bachelors) the analysis indicates that application of the safety net, when considered in isolation, increased the number of UC awards by just under two percentage points. However, this over-simplistic calculation does not account for the undoubted impact of the pandemic on students’ assessment outcomes, and the University is of the clear view that the implementation of the safety net was necessary and academically justified, and based on a robust assessment of student performance. 

This safety-net method of calculating the stage average was applied to all Year 2, 3 and 4 students, as long as they met criteria for progression or award, and so it will continue to have some influence on degree classifications until at least 2022. 

Attainment gap 

We are strongly focused on identifying and narrowing attainment gaps of upper classification degrees (2.1 and first classification) for traditionally disadvantaged groups, as part of our commitment to widening participation. Our published Access and Participation Plan contains data on awarding and awarding gaps compared with students’ more advantaged peers (for undergraduate home students only). The student population in 2019/20, compared with the baseline year 2017/18, had a higher proportion of students who identified as BAME (14.2% compared with 13.1%) and a higher proportion of students who originated from low participation neighbourhoods (POLAR4 quintiles 1&2) (21.5% compared with 19.6%). In addition, there was also a higher proportion with a registered disability - 22.9% in 2019/20 compared with 18.9% in 2017/18.

For BAME students, there remains an awarding gap from the baseline year 2017/18 to 2019/20 (referenced to white students). This gap has reduced noticeably though, falling from a 12.3 percentage point difference to a 8.3 percentage point difference. However, when BAME is broken down into further categories for analysis, the attainment gap of black students (reference to white students) is noticeably large. In 2017/18 there was a 20.9 percentage point gap and in 2019/20 the percentage point gap remained at 16.4. For students from low participation neighbourhoods (POLAR4 quintiles 1&2), the awarding gap, referenced to quintile 5, has increased from the baseline year 2017/18 to 2019/20 - from 4.0 percentage points to 7.1 percentage points. Breaking this down further shows that for students from quintile 1 (references to quintile 5) the awarding gap is larger - 6 percentage points compared to 9.6 percentage points. The awarding gap for disabled students was small at baseline year (1.8 percentage points) and remains small in 2019/20 (3.3 percentage points), referenced to non-disabled students.

Consideration needs to be taken when grouping the attainment gap into the category of a good degree. For example, BAME students (referenced with non-BAME students) being awarded a good degree in 2019/20 had a percentage point gap of 8.3. However, when this is broken down into the attainment gap for BAME students receiving a 2.1 v BAME students receiving a first the gaps are quite different. The attainment gap for those receiving a 2.1 was 1.1 percentage points. However, the attainment gap for those receiving a first degree was 11.0 percentage points.

Assessment and marking practices

The University of York has well-developed processes for ensuring that assessment activities and criteria are in line with national expectations and published sector reference points. The processes for programme approval ensure that Programme Learning Outcomes are aligned with the relevant FHEQ qualification descriptors and that programme design is informed by the relevant Subject Benchmark Statement and any requirements of Professional, Statutory or Regulatory Bodies. The University mandates that new programmes are evaluated by an external assessor, who are specifically required to comment on alignment with the FHEQ, Subject Benchmark Statements, Characteristics Statement and any professional requirements. 

The principles for standards and marking are articulated in the University Guide to Assessment, Standards Marking and Feedback (the “GTA”). Departments are responsible for the development of assessment and marking criteria that adhere to these principles. Devolvement to subject areas ensures that assessment criteria and marking practices are informed by external reference points and reflect discipline-specific expectations. The GTA provides advice on the suitability of different marking procedures for different assessment types (based on risk); within this framework subject areas are responsible for developing and monitoring local policies on marking and moderation. 

All taught provision that leads to the award of credit or a qualification of the University is overseen by an External Examiner, who is recruited following a robust process designed to follow the principles defined by the UK Quality Code. The External Examiner reporting template ensures systematic reporting on the appropriateness of the grading criteria, threshold standards, comparability of standards, conduct of the Board of Examiners and the application of the University rules relating to assessment, progression, award, exceptional circumstances and academic misconduct. In the last four years of this review period, all External Examiner reports confirmed, for all undergraduate programmes, that (i) standards set are appropriate for the qualification; (ii) academic standards and the achievements of students are comparable with similar programmes in other UK institutions; (iii) processes for assessment, examination and the determination of awards followed policy and were fairly conducted.  

All Hull York Medical School (HYMS) programmes are awarded jointly by the Universities of Hull and York; a distinct quality and standards framework, overseen by the HYMS Joint Senate Committee, governs HYMS provision. While this framework is distinct, the processes for securing standards and for the assurance and enhancement of quality are comparable to those articulated within the Degree Outcomes Statements of the Universities of Hull and York.

Academic governance

Responsibility for the assurance of standards of taught provision resides with a Senate Committee; University Teaching Committee (UTC) which is chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students and includes Student Representatives. The Standing Committee on Assessment (SCA), a sub-committee of UTC, is responsible for the monitoring and review of policies and procedures relating to assessments, marking, feedback and progression and for the approval of External Examiners. An External Examiner summary report, which identifies University-wide issues and common themes arising from External Examiners’ annual reports, is considered by SCA and UTC; this ensures robust oversight (and follow-up) of institution-wide and substantive issues relating to assessment, marking and standards.

Reports on degree outcomes are considered by SCA and UTC at different points in the academic year. An analysis of undergraduate degree classification distributions is presented in the Autumn and later in the academic year once sector data is available. In addition, a statistical analysis of the relationship between outcomes and entry profile characteristics and demographics is presented in the Spring. This approach ensures regular high-level monitoring, by senior Committees, of degree outcomes (including trend data) and the effect of student characteristics on degree outcomes. External assistance in assuring this Degree Outcomes Statement was managed through membership of the University’s Degree Outcomes Statement Working Group which included a University undergraduate External Examiner.

Classification algorithms

The University of York has a single undergraduate modular framework for all undergraduate awards, which provides a single set of progression, award and classification regulations. All Bachelors (Level 6) degrees are classified using the same, single, algorithm which is based on a weighted average of all marks obtained in modules in the final two years of study. Award and classification rules were introduced in 2010, and there has been little change since then. The definitive list of progression, award and classification regulations can be found in the University of York Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback. In addition we publish Student Guides to those same regulations. Apart from the temporary changes introduced in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic (see above), the only substantive modification made to the award rules since 2010 is a reduction in the minimum module mark required to allow compensation in the final year of study, a change which will have reduced the number of final-year resits (2017 graduates onwards). It should be noted that degree classification is based on first-attempt module marks, not the marks after resit. An analysis of outcomes was undertaken after two years of operation and, of the small number of graduating students affected by the change, the majority did not obtain UC awards.

For the purpose of this Statement, we have provided a supplementary document: Summary of University of York award rules to aid with the interpretation of the data we have presented. This document contains a summary of the rules on progression, compensation, reassessment, award and degree classification, including the rules for borderline cases.

Teaching practices and learning resources

The past decade has seen a series of learning and teaching strategic initiatives each designed to secure standards and assurance and enhance the quality of the student experience.  University-led initiatives over the period include the expansion of our skills provision and investment in our physical learning environment.  Our Writing and Language Skills Centre and Maths Skills Centre provide drop-in and bookable one-to-one advice with trained staff, to supplement the support that is embedded in modules.  Support is designed to support students with transitioning to a more academic and independent way of study.  We also have a huge suite of academic integrity resources and have a compulsory online module that ensures all students have a baseline knowledge of the standards required.  In addition we have developed a series of online Skills Guides to supplement embedded skills training.  The Skills Guides enable students to locate and access a range of skills easily and according to their needs and enable teaching staff to incorporate content into the Virtual Learning Environment module design.  Our most recent capital investments include, for example, the Piazza Learning Centre, which opened in January 2018 and the state of the art Church Lane Building, opened in September 2021, which includes a lecture theatre, multiple classrooms and numerous break out and social spaces.

It is difficult to determine a causal relationship between our strategic learning and teaching initiatives and our degree outcomes.  That said, we believe that these enhancements have positively supported student achievement and, notably, throughout a period of expansion and widening access, ensured that the percentage of students achieving an UC degree has been broadly constant (see section A: analysis of degree outcomes). In 2018, the institution proudly achieved a Gold award (in 2018) in the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) demonstrating delivery of consistently outstanding teaching, learning and outcomes for our students. Additionally, in 2017/18 the institution introduced the York Strengths Programme to  all first year students. The programme supports students in understanding the transferable/core skills graduate employers are looking for, explore these using a strengths based approach to understand what they can do and love to do, and empower them to take action to build relevant skills and experience and the confidence to pursue a career that they’ll enjoy and do well in. Student engagement has increased from 18% in the first year to 38% in 2019/20.

Identifying good practice

We are confident that, as outlined above, our processes for securing standards, and institutional oversight thereof, are robust. In undertaking the work to develop our Degree Outcomes Statement we have enhanced our degree outcomes data sets. Notably we have expanded our suite of Tableau workbooks to include students’ top three A level results; this enhancement allows analysis of how degree outcomes vary over time and any correlation with A level grades.  The workbooks have been disseminated (for reflection as part of Annual Programme Review) to departments and schools.

Our Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback provides, in one place, all relevant information in respect of assessment, standards, marking and feedback.  In providing clear and explicit guidance on standards-related processes (for example the determination of first-class degrees with distinction) in a single document, the GTA (which is updated annually) supports consistent implementation, at local level, of University expectations.  In this way the GTA, which is highly valued by staff and External Examiners, is a key resource in supporting us to discharge our responsibilities with respect to the standards of our awards.

Areas for further work or review

During the 2020/21 academic year, the University of York made some further temporary adjustments to the degree-classification algorithm, assessments and to progression/award rules, to account for the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of this adjustment will be monitored carefully in the coming years.

The University is currently undertaking a full review of the award and progression rules, with a view to implementation in 2023. The review is partly motivated by a recent revision of the modular scheme framework, which will apply to all programmes from the 2023/24 academic year. No major changes to the classification algorithm are currently planned