x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Inflation of grades is widespread, study says

Professors are giving students higher grades than they deserve, according to a study at UAE University.

Professors are giving students higher grades than they deserve, according to a study at UAE University. Students completing their MBA at the university conducted a survey of UAE professors and found that grade inflation was widespread. They asked the professors about factors that contribute to grade inflation, such as whether they feared student complaints or felt sympathy for less-qualified students.

According to Fahad al Rumaithi, one of the students who compiled the report, professors said they increased grades largely due to the poor quality of the students. "We were expecting that low-quality students would receive a low grade," Mr al Rumaithi said. "When we asked the doctors, they were receiving higher grades." Professors frequently reported students nagging them for better grades. "Amazingly, most of these factors are applied here in the UAE, more than other countries," Mr al Rumaithi said.

Grade inflation has long been a concern at American universities, where studies have shown grading to have become increasingly lenient. Research found that the increasing commercialisation of universities in the US was partly to blame. Students, now considered to be more like consumers, have more control of their professors' careers through student-evaluation forms. "Now they're realising a change between the students and the professor," Mr al Rumaithi said. "Before, everybody had respect for him; now that dynamic has changed.

"The doctor starts to fear bad feedback from the students." Because of this, it seems, professors were more likely to improve grades. Students were also more inclined to fight for higher marks due to parental or peer pressure. Mr al Rumaithi, who worked with several classmates on the report, said the motivating factors in the UAE were different than in the US. A request to take part in the anonymous survey was sent to 1,123 professors; 112 completed the questionnaire.

The survey showed that, on average, professors found students in the UAE to have average or below-average English writing, communication and maths skills. Professors said 80 per cent of their students were of average or below-average quality overall. Students outside the country were deemed far better at reading, writing and arithmetic. Professors also said they adjusted grades depending on the difficulty of the course, its content and workload. Poor course evaluations, complaining students and concerns over job security were less likely to motivate local professors, according to the survey.

As more private, for-profit universities opened in the country, grade inflation might become an increasing problem, the study said. Professors here have little long-term job security and no tenure. In the US, professors with stable positions were less likely to be swayed by students. "Grade inflation is a problem, and it is not doing anyone a favour not the students, not the economy and not the country," said Ingo Forstenlechner, the professor overseeing the MBA students.

"I felt pressured by students when I first arrived. One receives way too many e-mails asking for better grades for no reason. Only when I spoke to others, I realised we did have a choice." The MBA students suggested a stronger role for the Ministry of Higher Education, and the establishment of an external body to monitor grading. The ministry was contacted about the issue, but did not respond. Peggy Blackwell, the dean of the college of education at Zayed University, said it was common for students to plead for higher grades.

"I've heard that students who come from public school are used to getting extremely high grades regardless of the quality of their work," she said. The issue was usually compounded by parents demanding high marks from their children, she said. James Piecowye, who teaches communication at Zayed University, said his students were generally on par with those from North America. However, students here did not necessarily nag more for better grades, he added. "I talk to colleagues [abroad] and I sometimes feel that I'm quite lucky."

jgerson@thenational.ae