The HSE Student Council met with the Office of Degree Programmes in order to discuss the problem of grade inflation. HSE University Life learned about the consequences of ‘nine’ and ‘ten’ domination, the mechanisms for solving the problem, and how normalizing grades can be done at various faculties.
In the beginning of 2020, when we introduced a service for interactive grade control, we started to look closer at this problem. The COVID pandemic and the transition to remote learning hampered this process, and the University administration returned to this problem only in February 2021, when it studied the reasons behind the decrease in the scholarship budget. Recently, the Rector’s Council presented the results of these studies by the Office of Degree Programmes and initiated discussions at the departmental level.
Yesterday, the administration discussed the problem with Student Council representatives. The meeting started with a report by Timofey Pribylev and Ivan Belokurov, representatives of the Education Quality Committee (EQC).
They listed the main complications caused by grade inflation: difficulties with assessment (a teacher has not taken proper care to preserve control tools), difficulties in categorizing students in the student ranking, and future devaluation of students’ achievements for employers. A particular problem is the decrease in the budget for increased academic scholarships due to the growing number of state academic scholarships.
Student Council representatives talked about the problem solutions they suggest. First of all, entrance control of syllabi should be reinforced: additional requirements for programme consideration and approval by academic supervisors should be implemented. ‘We suggest adding a list of points the academic supervisor should pay attention to in the syllabi, and to ask the supervisors to thoroughly discuss these with each teacher,’ Timofey Pribylev commented.
EQC also suggested introducing indicators of grade distribution in the course. If the indicator goes off (such as, with 30-50% indicator of excellent marks, the teacher gives 20%), the department head (or academic supervisor) should look at what has been happening in the course in detail and find the reasons. Accordingly, the supervisor can recommend that the teacher correct the syllabus, pass a class on course assessment, or make changes to the discipline if needed.
The other suggestions include introducing a KPI for exemption from an exam for the faculties in the Syllabus Builder, as a percent range of excellent and good grades. In addition, EQC believes it is important to distinguish grades for general courses, practical training, and online courses from other grades and specifically track the dynamics in these categories.
Student Council representatives said they object to any norms or quotas for excellent marks at the University level. EQC also busted some myths that bothered the students. The Committee representatives said that a quality implementation of the reform won’t worsen the best performers’ position and won’t change the students’ positions in the ranking, since it is relative, while grades are absolute. Giving everyone excellent grades is also not a solution, since in this case, the purpose of assessment is lost.
Complete presentation of the Education Quality Committee
Then, Vice Rector Sergey Roshchin took the floor. ‘This is an important talk, since we are discussing the most important thing at the University — the quality of education, in which all of us are interested,’ he began.
He said that currently, the University doesn’t have any specific solutions: supposedly, HSE faculties, departments, and schools will be discussing the possible solutions considering their subject areas together with their students until June 10.
Mr. Roshchin also doesn’t believe that the fight for grade normalization will have a negative impact on students. He gave an example of ICEF, one of the few faculties where no inflation is observed: ‘We are proud of this programme, and the London Economic School believes it to be one of its best joint programmes.’ He also said that in spring 2020, the HSE Art and Design School started to fight grade inflation. This work is still in progress, but a year later, the situation has already improved.
‘The goal we are pursuing is high-quality education. Our task is not only to shift the distribution curve, but to make this shift lead to qualitative changes in education,’ added Kirill Muzyka, Head of the Student Council Executive Office. He also emphasized the need to study the impact of the competitive atmosphere created at HSE University (particularly, public deanonymized rankings) on students’ attitude to grades.
Olesya Yakovleva, student of the Faculty of Communications, Media and Design commented that at the Media Communications programme, most projects have ‘tens’ for project workshops. Most criteria at these courses have to do with technical part of the process. That’s why the question of how to reduce inflation is related to the introduction of creative criteria, Olesya believes, and accordingly, the issue of subjectivity will be examined in creative course assessment.
Timofey Pribylev believes that project-based studies at the Faculty of Communications, Media and Design need special consideration. For example, external experts may be involved in the assessment of creative projects in order to avoid subjectivity. Sergey Roshchin said that to elaborate measures on solving this problem, students can address the programme administration right away.
At the end of the meeting, Sergey Roshchin repeated that the University has no ready-made solutions at the moment, so today, it is important not to project any activities on the ‘implemented policies’: the discussion has only just started, and student participation in it is essential.
See the full recording of the meeting on YouTube (in Russian):