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Perceptions of the International
Baccalaureate Diploma Programme

A report of an inquiry carried out in 2003 at UK universities and institutions of higher education


Aims of the project

The aims of the project were to:

  • evaluate the IB Diploma Programme as a suitable
    preparation for degree studies in the UK
  • establish the IB Diploma Programme’s strengths and
    weaknesses and the level of enthusiasm shown for it
    throughout the higher education sector
  • make some comparisons between the IB Diploma
    Programme and predominant national qualifications.


A questionnaire was designed to elicit statistical information and commentaries from respondents. With the cooperation of
Universities UK and SCOP (Standing Conference of Principals), this questionnaire was distributed to all institutions of higher education in the UK, and specifically to their pro-vice-chancellors. This ensured that the responses were representative of the institutions approached, and 122 replies from 71 institutions were received.

Of the 71 institutions surveyed, 20 were selected for followup
interviews, and 34 respondents were involved in these interviews.

The information received from the questionnaires and interviews was analysed under the following headings:

  • The depth and rigour of the IB Diploma Programme
  • The breadth of the IB Diploma Programme
  • The core elements of the IB Diploma Programme
  • The “whole package”
  • Skills and assessment.

IB students in classroom

Depth and rigour

Comments on the level of preparation of IB Diploma
Programme students for degree studies were received from
representatives of a wide range of disciplines. Comments
were overwhelmingly favourable with 96% of respondents
satisfied with the preparation of Diploma Programme
students. The A-level system was seen to have greater depth
by some respondents, but this was less the case with
Curriculum 2000. For most respondents the differences
between A-levels and the Diploma Programme were not


The majority of respondents (96%) favoured a broad
curriculum and were particularly enthusiastic about this
aspect of the Diploma Programme. A small number were
concerned about dilution, but most appreciated the
confidence, wide knowledge and skills that the breadth of the
Diploma Programme seemed to endow. The numerical rating
given by respondents placed the Diploma Programme ahead
of national qualifications for this aspect.

Core elements

Attitudes to the IB Diploma Programme’s core elements—
theory of knowledge (TOK), extended essay and creativity,
action, service (CAS)—were investigated.

A majority of respondents (91%) approved of TOK. Comments received included its suitability in preparing students for the tutorial style of university education, and the flexibility and adaptability of the thought processes it seemed to assist.

There was greater enthusiasm for the extended essay with a
96% rating in its favour. It was seen to assist both research
skills and the preparation of dissertations.

CAS was also seen as an asset, but not in academic terms
where it plays little part in the consideration of lecturers and tutors. Its 70% approval rating relates mainly to its value in
helping to produce rounded personalities. There was some
specific enthusiasm from the medical professions who see
the service element as good preparation for medical studies.

IB students

The “whole package”

There was enthusiasm for the IB Diploma Programme hexagon and core model although many were unclear as to what was compulsory in the programme. Some respondents (57%) felt that the Diploma Programme conferred an advantage to its students, and 40% were of the view that it neither conferred advantage nor disadvantage.

Skills and assessment

Consideration of higher skills needed for advanced studies was investigated by comparing three versions of the national
GCE A-level system with the Diploma Programme for four skill areas (critical thinking, communication, self-management and motivation). For each area there was a significant majority of the 78 respondents to this question who rated IB Diploma
Programme students as more accomplished than those following the A-level systems.


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IB Research Notes, January 2004—issue focussing on Perceptions report

University students

Questions raised

Responses to this study raised many issues that are reviewed and considered in this report. These issues include the following questions.

  • Does the Diploma Programme suit arts students better than science students?
  • Are Diploma Programme assessment issues and skills achievement always well presented by the IB?
  • Are Diploma Programme syllabuses seen as stable?
  • Are Diploma Programme examination results noted for their stability and absence of grade inflation?
  • Is the Diploma Programme too challenging for the less-able student?
  • Are Diploma Programme students self-selecting and
    from better schools?

“IB students are more flexible, more open to new ideas and are more ready to question and challenge”

The University of Essex


The project was set up to investigate reactions to the IB Diploma Programme curriculum. The statistics and narrative responses indicate considerable enthusiasm for this form of
education and much confidence in the students who pursue it.

"IB students perform well and do not fail or drop out"

The University of Dundee