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University students with low score in honesty traits expect higher grades: new research

Australian Catholic University (ACU) senior researcher Douglas Russell was part of a collaborative team of researchers who found students who are less honest potentially expect higher grades, regardless of their efforts.

Termed ‘Academic entitlement’, it refers to students who believe they are “inherently deserving of certain privileges in an academic setting”.

Unsurprisingly, students who were more honest had a lower sense of ‘academic entitlement’. Researchers also concluded that personality traits had a more profound impact on ‘academic entitlement’ than the backgrounds of students’ families.

These personality traits include "less stable emotionally" students as well as those with lower levels of humility. Students who tend to be more social are also less likely to blame others for sub-standard academic results.

In collaboration with other researchers at Middlesex University in Dubai, ACU senior researcher Douglas Russell examined the attitudes of 170 first-year and second-year undergraduate students at the private university. The research paper ‘My grade, my right’, published in the Social Psychology of Education Journal, found that having “low levels of honesty and humility were the strongest predictors of a high sense of academic entitlement”.

“For academics working in a tertiary institution, the following scenario is probably all too familiar – some undergraduate students feel they deserve good grades without much effort and blame their failure on their lecturers,” Russell said.

“Educators across the globe are confronted with these attitudes in universities. They know all too well about the growing number of students who begin their tertiary studies with a sense of academic entitlement, entitled expectations, not taking personal responsibility and unrealistic expectations.”

Russell attributes part of the high expectations on funding decreases in the higher education sector, declines in staff numbers and increases in international student enrolments which has coalesced to create a “consumer-based” model.

“A consumer-based model lends itself to commercial demands such as high expectations of satisfaction and service delivery,” although more research is needed in this area, Russell said.

“Unfortunately, these expectations jeopardise intellectual engagement and active educational involvement which are the hallmarks of academic excellence.

“What was surprising though, was that any relationship between family influence such as parental expectations and academic entitlement is invalidated when you consider the student’s personality. This was a new finding. A student's personality overrides that to some extent."

The research used the “six factor HEXACO personality model" developed by researchers Ashton and Lee and explained in their book, The H Factor of Personality. The six factors, or dimensions, include Honesty-Humility (H), Emotionality (E), Extraversion (X), Agreeableness (A), Conscientiousness (C), and Openness to Experience (O).

“Of the 170 students in the study, 92 were asked to predict their own grades for two different kinds of assignments: a laboratory report (structured), and an in-class exam or essay (open-ended),” Russell said.

“Students with higher entitled expectations tended to overestimate their grades with the exam and essay. Interestingly, students did not overestimate or underestimate their grades for laboratory reports.

“The overestimation of grades in essays and exams could be related to the fact these modes of assessment have fewer guidelines than laboratory reports.

“In a user-pays education model, it might be more intuitive for students to hold university staff responsible for disappointing outcomes rather than taking responsibility themselves.”

For Russell, the findings suggest that honest student feedback would be more helpful and that students should be supported in taking more responsibility or ownership for their academic achievement. More self-reflection, for instance, and peer review could also encourage students to give each other more honest, constructive feedback.

Explicit advice on what is expected in assignments – using a range of explanations – could also “decrease feelings of uncertainty for students”.

Possibilities for further research in the area include whether the findings are replicated in a public university setting, as opposed to an exclusively private one, with students from more privileged backgrounds.

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One comment

  1. Where a lecturer’s career prospects rely on Satisfaction Ratings supplied by such students, their expectations of high grades, could lead to marking that ensures their expectations are satisfied. particularly at universities use predominantly casual staff for teaching.

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