Education Secretary vows six-figure fines for universities that artificially boost grades
Universities that dole out "unjustifiable" first-class degrees could be handed six-figure fines under a crackdown unveiled by the Education Secretary.
Damian Hinds flagged analysis from higher education regulator the Office for Students which showed 27% of students obtained a first-class honours degree in 2016/17 - up from just 16% at the start of the decade.
The Education Secretary warned that the rise in top awards risks undermining Britain's "world-class and world leading" universities - with one institution handing out firsts to more than half of its students.
"It cannot be right that students in one year are awarded higher grades for the same level of achievement than those in previous years," he said.
"We owe it to the hardworking students who have earned those top grades to stamp out this unfair practice."
Mr Hinds is promising to beef up the powers handed to the OfS later this year, with the watchdog set to be given the power to levy fines of up to £500,000 - or 2% of a university's income, whichever is higher.
Higher education institutions that flout the rules could also face being stripped of their power to award degrees, the Department for Education said.
Professor Dame Janet Beer, president of the higher education umbrella group Universities UK, said institutions were "determined to tackle unexplained grade inflation".
But she added: "It is important to draw a distinction between grade inflation and grade improvement, where increased investment in teaching and facilities, as well as students working harder than ever, are leading to legitimate increases in grades.
"Questions raised by this debate will not halt efforts to ensure every student has the opportunity to get the best outcome from their study – a priority shared by the government and the Office for Students."