HSE University to Take Action on Grade Inflation
HSE University’s administration is determined to prevent the lowering of grading standards for students’ academic performance. Teachers will be receiving new grading guidelines in the next two weeks. The proposed grading criteria will become mandatory for all courses. Other measures are planned as well. The list of such measures was discussed by the Rector’s Council on June 15.
Thanks to HSE University’s reputation, employers are happy to welcome all HSE graduates, even lowest-ranking ones. ‘Metaphorically speaking, we have managed to achieve this attitude to all our graduates due to the high-pressure steam in the boiler of our university’s locomotive. This locomotive is moving fast forward, never standing still,’ notes HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov
The average grade of HSE students has increased manifold in recent times, meaning that teachers’ grading standards have declined and the quality of teaching is at risk. The findings of a survey conducted by HSE University show that its departments offer various explanations about this situation, including more rigorous admission standards, special grading systems for online courses, complexity in differentiating grades (it is unclear, for instance, how ‘eight’ differs from ‘nine’ or ‘ten’ in the ten-grade system), etc. Other reasons include even psychological pressure from students, who can give low ratings to their teachers and thus deprive the latter of bonuses.
However, these explanations found no understanding with the Rector’s Council. Vice Rector Sergey Roshchin believes it would be odd to blame the increase in average grades on online courses. He pointed out that the issue of grade inflation had emerged long before the pandemic began forcing the University to resort to online exams. He also called pressure from students a ‘shaky argument’.
Students will always seek to increase their grades - this is part and parcel of a teacher’s fate, and we must take a firm professional stance in this regard
Vladimir Radaev, HSE University’s First Vice Rector, believes that teachers should be well aware of the University’s position, stating that it is inappropriate to either inflate or deflate grades and they should continuously improve their knowledge about our grading approach. Valery Katkalo, First Vice Rector and Dean of HSE Graduate School of Business, emphasizes the importance of enhancing the quality of methodological efforts. He also notes that, during a meeting with the HSE Student Council, students expressed their concerns about the issue of grade inflation, asking teachers to adhere to more rigorous standards.
In Yaroslav Kuzminov’s opinion, the main problem is that ‘we do not encourage our students to work harder’. Meanwhile, HSE University is notable for posing positive challenges to its students, encouraging competition and discouraging infantilism among them. Furthermore, the academic programme of the International College of Economics and Finance is the most reputable in this regard. Its grading standards are very rigorous; students may be asked to repeat a year or even drop out. Nevertheless, it is very popular among prospective students, who are willing to pay RUB 1,000,000 per year to study there. If the grading standards are lowered and teachers and students live an easy life, HSE University will cease to exist, stresses Rector Kuzminov.
The first measure HSE University plans to implement in the nearest future to prevent grade inflation is to request that the Office of Degree Programmes develop basic grading guidelines and discuss them with faculty members, who should read through and understand this document.
Rector Kuzminov emphasized that the guidelines should be written in a clear and simple language without any circumlocution, e.g., without separating analytical skills into ‘brilliant’, ‘excellent’, and ‘exceptional’. The proposal the working group put forward to the Rector’s Council previously did include such vague language.
There also is a plan to clearly define grading criteria for each subject. These criteria will become a mandatory element in the grading system. In Yaroslav Kuzminov’s opinion, to the extent the 10-point grading system applies, ‘eight’ will be equal to ‘A’, while ‘nine’ or ‘10’ can only be given to students who study something at the of their obligatory programme, demonstrating genuine interest in the subject, and offering unique solutions. When teachers give ‘nine’s’ and ‘10’s’ to everyone, they infringe upon the rights of those students who are really keen on a subject and may choose to become teachers in the future. This approach frustrates such students’ ambitions, making them keep a low profile.
Teachers who give ‘A’s’ to most students do not pay enough attention to the importance of grading and feedback. Teachers who give ‘A’s’ to more than a third of their students fail to comply with the basic requirements of their employment contract and should not be teaching at the University, as such appalling behaviour can only be compared to the behaviour of students who plagiarize their graduation papers. The teacher is not a famous signer who performs on the stage to earn loud applause and say, “I love all of you!’ By giving an undeserved grade, this teacher lies to students and all of us, disgracing the University.
Not only should teachers be responsible for giving grades, but the heads of departments and academic programmes should also take responsibility for the quality of grading. In the HSE Rector’s opinion, students’ rankings should not depend on the sum of their grades. In addition, grades given for projects should account for at least one third of the cumulative grade. He also suggested a working group of students be established to develop a new approach to the ranking. Threatening a teacher with a low ranking is a case of gross misconduct (just like plagiarism); serious enough to be grounds for expulsion from the University. Any other threats should be reported to the police.