One in five UK undergraduates awarded first class degree

One in five undergraduate students has been awarded a first class degree in 2014.

Figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency on the academic year 2013/2014 showed that the number of first class degree awarded has doubled in the last decade. 80,000 students left higher education with the highest possible degree classification. As almost 400,000 students were awarded a degree in 2014, this makes up 20 per cent of all undergraduates.

Including those 20 per cent, 70 per cent of all students were awarded at least 2:1, with half of all students achieving a 2:1. In 2014, merely one in 10 students was awarded a first class degree.

The figures also showed that Scottish students are being awarded the most first class degrees. 74 per cent of all Scottish students left university with a degree of 2:1 or higher.

Further, nearly four out of five women were awarded the highest degree classification in 2014.
Whilst university representatives emphasise that students are working harder than ever before for their degree results, experts have raised concerns that universities are making

first class degrees easier to gain in order to climb up university league tables.

Professor Alan Smithers, Director of the Centre for Education and Employment research at Buckingham University, told The Telegraph: “Whereas in the past firsts were an exception, now a significant proportion of students are getting them.”

He said that the university system was in need of differentiation at the top, suggesting the introduction of a starred first.

A number of universities, including the University of Edinburgh, are introducing the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR). The HEAR gives a more detailed insight into students’ achievements, including a number of recognised extra-curricular activities.

This is supposed to provide prospective employers with more information than a degree classification.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “With changes to the student funding system and increased graduate contributions, there is evidence to suggest that students are working harder than ever to get their degree results.

“However, the sector has recognised for some time that the current degree classification system is a blunt instrument; hence the trialling of the HEAR and grade point average system at a number of universities.

“The aim is to provide a more detailed account of what a student has actually achieved during their studies, rather than just a one-off degree classification.”

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