Claims of soft marking are common, but evidence is rare. This makes UNSW academic Gigi Foster’s paper on business students at UTS and the University of South Australia particularly interesting. She has the academic results and other details for domestic and international students, as well as other information about student background and classes taken.
There is certainly no sign of the grade inflation common in American universities. The average mark for domestic students is 62%, and for internationals 57%. A figure showing the distribution of marks shows very few at the high levels and many fails, particularly for international students.
Foster concludes that there are signs of soft marking because though international students get lower grades overall, when there is a high concentration of international students in classes their marks improve. She thinks that this is consistent with grading to the curve, of ensuring that there is a similar distribution of marks between classes. When classes are mostly internationals, the better students get the benefit of a statistical adjustment to their marks.
In The Australian‘s report of Foster’s paper, not everyone is backing this conclusion:
University of Melbourne international education expert Simon Marginson and Melbourne Institute economist Ross Williams have not been convinced by some of her interpretations.
They point out that international students benefit from being grouped together in that they co-operate more and feel less isolated.
“All the research tells us that group co-operation between international students is the norm, especially among same culture internationals,” Marginson says.
Either way, I don’t see any evidence of deliberate soft marking of students, domestic or international. The bigger issue raised by this research is that so many of the students are struggling.