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Degree Outcomes Statement

Students working in a group


Daniel Baker (lead author), Stephen Gow, Adrian Lee, Vanessa Richardson-Pratt, Jen Wotherspoon, Jess Burchell and Patrick Gallimore.

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 (e.g. 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 8 years of graduating cohorts (2014-2021). 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). We present data for the 2021 graduating cohort, as these data are fully available at time of writing. The analysis has focused on the fraction (%) of all Level 6 (H-level, Bachelor) graduates who were awarded an upper-classification (UC) - i.e. first-class or upper-second-class - degree. Trends over the last eight years are shown in Figure 1.

Considering data across all subjects, the percentage of graduates awarded UC degrees (which we refer to as %UC) saw a clear and significant increase in 2021, following a period of relative stability. Similar increases have occurred across the sector, and are likely pandemic-related (see next section). %UC for the University of York remains substantially below the median for other Russell Group universities (York: 85.1, RG: 91.2), as well as below the pre-pandemic Russell Group median (86.1 in 2019).

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. Error bars indicate 95% confidence intervals.

Impact of Covid-19

Students graduating in 2021 were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in a number of ways, including a sudden switch to remote teaching and learning in 2020, and the replacement of closed examinations with online assessments. There were, in addition, some changes to the award and progression rules that were designed to support students in this time of unprecedented change and recognise the challenges that our students have faced throughout their studies. Grades from the 2019/20 academic year benefitted from a ‘Safety Net’ procedure, in which stage averages were calculated in two ways: (a) the usual way, counting all 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). Students received the greater of these two scores.

In addition, the algorithm for determining final degree class in 2021 was adjusted so that two alternative weightings were considered when calculating the award mark for level 6 graduates (Bachelors). The first was the standard weighting (2:3), and the second (a 4:3 weighting) reduced the contribution of final year marks by 50%. Students’ award marks were calculated using the better of the two weightings. Both of these measures were intended to compensate for disruption due to the pandemic, however they will inevitably have a positive effect on overall degree classification, and this is the most likely explanation for increases in %UC over the past two years. We anticipate that these measures will continue to impact degree classifications until at least 2022. 

Relative to the 2019 cohort, there was a 3.9% increase in %UC in 2021. Our modelling indicates that a 1% increase can be attributed to the 2020 safety net, 0.4% can be attributed to the alternative stage weighting used in 2021, and a further 0.1% is due to the additive effect of both policies. The remaining 2.4% increase is therefore attributable to other pandemic-related changes, such as switching to electronic assessments with longer (24 hour) time windows, and relaxing evidence requirements for exceptional circumstances applications. Going forwards, we anticipate that all of these inflationary factors will reduce in impact. From the 2022/23 academic year onwards, we are holding in-person examinations again for some modules, and the influence of the other measures should be negligible for students graduating from 2023 onwards. We are therefore confident that our degree outcomes will return to their stable pre-pandemic baseline by 2024.

Award gap

We are strongly focused on identifying and narrowing award gaps of upper classification degrees (2.1 and first classification) for traditionally disadvantaged groups. Our published Access and Participation Plan contains data on award gaps compared with students’ more advantaged peers (for undergraduate home students only). The student population in 2020/21, compared with the baseline year 2017/18, had a higher proportion of students who identified as BAME (14.9% compared with 13.1%) and a higher proportion of students who originated from low participation neighbourhoods (POLAR4 quintiles 1&2) (22.9% compared with 19.6%). In addition, there was also a higher proportion with a registered disability - 22.8% in 2020/21 compared with 18.9% in 2017/18.

For BAME students, the award gap has reduced noticeably, falling from a 12.3 percentage point difference to a 4.1 percentage point difference. However, when BAME is broken down, the award gap of black students (referenced to white students) is noticeably large. In 2017/18 there was a 20.9 percentage point gap and in 2020/21 the percentage point gap remained high at 19.4. For students from low participation neighbourhoods (POLAR4 quintiles 1&2), the award gap, referenced to quintile 5, has increased from the baseline year 2017/18 to 2020/21 - from 4.0 percentage points to 7.7 percentage points. Breaking this down further shows that for students from quintile 1 (referenced to quintile 5) the awarding gap is larger - 6 percentage points in 2018 compared to 10.7 percentage points in 2020. The award gap for disabled students was small at baseline year (1.9 percentage points) and remains small in 2020/21 (0.2 percentage points), referenced to non-disabled students.

Consideration needs to be taken when grouping the award gap into the category of a good degree. For example, BAME students (referenced to non-BAME students) being awarded a good degree in 2020/21 had a percentage point gap of 4.1. However, when this is broken down into the award gap for BAME students receiving a 2.1 versus BAME students receiving a first the gaps are quite different. The award gap for those receiving a 2.1 was -5.1 percentage points - meaning a BAME student was more likely to be awarded a 2.1 degree than a non-BAME student. However, the award gap for those receiving a first class degree was 9.5 percentage points.

(Please see our EDI Glossary for definitions of terms.)

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.

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. Devolution 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 External Examiners, who are recruited following a robust process aligned with the principles defined by the UK Quality Code. In the last five 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 the same regulations. Apart from the temporary changes introduced in 2020 and 2021 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 upper classification 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, such as the Writing Centre and Maths Skills Centre. We also have a huge suite of academic integrity resources, including 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. Our teaching, learning and community spaces are constantly developing and improving, the latest projects can be viewed here. For example, the state of the art Church Lane Building, opened in September 2021, including 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 relatively stable (see section A: analysis of degree outcomes). In 2018, the institution proudly achieved a Gold award 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 41% in 2020/21.

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 are disseminated periodically to departments and schools.

Areas for further work or review

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, along with a shift to a semesterised calendar. No major changes to the classification algorithm are currently planned.