Students 'less prepared' for university

Seven out of 10 academics believe that students are not as well prepared for university study as in the past, in spite of improvements to A-level results.

Most of the academics who were surveyed by the THE also felt that universities had fallen victim to "dumbing down".

The online poll of more than 500 people was designed to see what university staff felt about the quality of higher education in Britain, and their students.

Purely from the A-level statistics, the academic abilities of pupils leaving school and attending university should be better, even though the numbers entering higher education have increased by a fifth in the past decade.

The average UCAS tariff of a student starting a full-time degree course has risen from 314.4 in the 2002 academic year to 330.3 last year.

Yet only one in five academics surveyed believed students entering higher education after school were better prepared than in the past. Previous studies have revealed widespread concern among admissions tutors that pupils had become too "spoon-fed" when preparing for tests in secondary education, and so lacked initiative.

The great majority of those surveyed also felt there was a growing problem of plagiarism by their students and that they were under pressure to give them better marks.

However, the academics were not totally lacking in optimism. More agreed than disagreed with the statement that "UK higher education remains the 'gold standard' internationally."

Peter Williams, chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, told the THE that he was not impressed by claims that educational standards had fallen since the 1980s or the 1990s.

"What nonsense this all is," he said. "Standards will inevitably change over time, reflecting developments in the world at large.

"Whether they are the same as 10, 20, or 30 years ago is irrelevant. What is important is that they should be right for today."

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