Universities should take spelling and grammar into account when marking exams, according to England’s higher education regulator.
The Students Office (OfS) said some institutions have interpreted equality legislation in a way that means they do not assess technical skills in written English for all students.
“We do not consider this approach to be necessary or justified,” the regulator added in a report.
The National Union of Students (NUS) said education was “much broader” than spelling and grammar in response to the suggestion.
The OfS said it found “common themes” that gave it “regulatory concern” in its report on how spelling, grammar and punctuation are assessed at universities in England.
Some universities had policies where fluency in written English is often not taken into account, he said, warning that this could lead to “unexplained” grade inflation.
“The introduction of these policies may have lowered standards, which in turn may have contributed to a greater proportion of students receiving higher degree classifications,” the report says.
Last year, an OfS analysis found that the proportion of graduates with the best degrees rose from around 15% in the 2010-11 academic year to 29.5% in the year 2018-19, raising concerns about rating inflation.
Students should be assessed on spelling, punctuation and grammar in order to maintain quality and protect standards, the watchdog urged in its report released Thursday.
Susan Lapworth, director of regulation at OfS, said: “Some universities and colleges ask academics to ignore spelling, punctuation and grammar errors to make assessment more inclusive.”
“The idea that they should expect less from certain groups of students is condescending. This threatens to undermine standards as well as public confidence in the value of a degree. “
Ms Lapworth added: “This risks putting new graduates at a disadvantage in the workforce and could leave employers spending time and money on training graduates in basic written English.”
“There is no inconsistency in a supplier complying with equality legislation and making their reviews accessible, while maintaining rigor of spelling, punctuation and grammar,” says the OfS report.
From October 2022, the watchdog said it would take action against universities or colleges whose assessment approaches “lack rigor.”
But Hillary Gyebi-Ababio of the NUS said education was “so much broader” than spelling and grammar in response to the report.
“Any proposal to change existing practices must take into account the experiences of people with dyslexia,” added the union vice-president for higher education.
“Rather than reforming assessment practices and tinkering with the limits of our education system, we need to rethink education and accept that our testing system needs a fundamental transformation. “
A spokesperson for Universities UK (UUK) said universities fully recognize the importance of fluency in English.
“As the OfS notes, this report refers to a small number of universities. The OfS also recognizes that practices will differ across the large and diverse academic sector, and there is no evidence in what has been presented to suggest that practices of concern are the norm.
Michelle Donelan, Minister of Higher and Further Education, said: “Rigor and standards are important at all stages of education, and the fundamentals of good spelling, punctuation and grammar are also important today.” they never have been. “
She added: “It is fair that the Students Office warns universities that ignore poor written English.”
Additional reporting by the Press Association