Grade Inflation in UK Archaeology

Posted on July 25, 2014


Over the last few days I have been writing about grade inflation and how it affects job prospects and the causes of it. The reason I have been writing about grade inflation is because I took a look at the data from the UK and found it in Archaeology degrees. Here are the final marks, first degrees i.e. undergrads, for Archaeology degrees in the Humanities.


Grades- Archaeology H&P

Grades- Archaeology H&P

Up, Up, and Away We Go

The lower second, ‘2:2’, has decreased significantly in the last decade and a half. For my American readers here is a conversion table to UK grades to US.

UK Class UK Percentage US Grade US GPA
First 70-100 A 4.0
Upper second 60-69 B+/B 3.0-3.33
Lower second 54-59 B/B- 2.67-3.0
Third 42-53 C 2.0
Pass 38-41 D 1.0
Fail 0-37 F 0

For any American who had done some sort of University in the UK you will be familiar with the cultural shock of a 70 being an excellent grade. For those of you not familiar with the system the table does not really capture the full effect of the ‘First’. Most ‘First’ marks are in the 70-75 range. A 90 is a paper that could go through peer review and be published, most people rarely break the low 70s as a final grade. Still we see that most UK archaeology students are receiving a B+ average, which is what we see in the US for all students, a 3.0-3.33 average. Oh, and the Third is practically extinct. You really want to stand out from your peers, get a Third/C average.

Where Did These Numbers Come From?

I got the data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency whose job it is to gather such data. I downloaded digital data from 2001-2013 from the  HESA Database Heidi. The 1994-2001 data I got from published reports, this data is not in a digital format HESA did not exists before 1994 so they have not data before then.

Its Always Complicated

In the UK Archaeology degrees can be classified as Archaeological Science in the Physical Sciences catagory of degrees or as just Archaeology degrees in the Humanities, now called Historical & Philosophical Studies.. Unfortunately since 2002/2003 these Arch Sci. degrees have been lumped in with Forensics degrees in the national statistics. Now I am about to geek out here, as I have been looking for a way to separate Forensic from Archaeology Science degrees for a while now. For the Archaeology in the Humanities these numbers were straight forward, they were all in the same catagory. For Archaeology Science degrees I was able to use the 1994-2001 numbers as is. For the Forensic/Arch Sci category, from 2002 onward, I took a look at the UCAS list of degree courses. Turns out only a few Universities have Archaeology Science degrees and almost all of them don’t also have Forensics degrees, at least for undergrad. The exception is Bradford but for everywhere else I was able to split  Archaeology Science from Forensics degrees based on Universities. We can see those degrees here:

Grades- Archaeological Sci

Grades- Archaeological Sci

These are all over the place and don’t show as clear an example of grade inflation. That is simply because there are so few Arch sci degrees. Five more people getting a ‘First’ can change the results. But, when we combine both Archaeology Science and Archaeology (humanities) degrees we still see the same trend, though a little less pronounced:

Grades- Archaeology Total

Grades- Archaeology Total

Are Certain Universities Driving Up Grades?

As far as I can tell this is a sector wide phenomenon. Given some Universities only graduate 5 people a year these numbers will jump widely from year to year with each University but it looks like all Universities are experiencing grade inflation – see data.

Overall the percentage of higher grades has kept going up over the last few years in UK Archaeology. If you got a ‘1st’ in 1990s be proud, not many of your peers did and it meant more back then.


You can download the data here –Grade Inflation– I wave all rights I might have to this i.e. EU database copyright rules. Though if you want to let me know you used it I would greatly appreciate it.

New Data

After publishing this post I found some additional data on grade inflation. Here is my post explaining it. It adds another 20 years of data which shows that these trends are long term, going back 40 years:

Grade Inflation in UK Archaeology from 1972-1913

Grade Inflation in UK Archaeology from 1972-1913

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