Belfast Telegraph

Surge in number of students gaining first-class degrees at our universities

By Staff Reporter

There has been a sharp rise in the number of students at Northern Ireland's universities being awarded 'firsts' - the top grade of degree classification.

Almost one-quarter of students at Queen's University, and one-fifth of their Ulster University counterparts, earned a first-class degree in the 2015/16 academic year.

Fewer than one in six achieved the top grade six years ago.

The figures were reported by the BBC as having been released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). They show that in 2015-16, 24% of students at QUB and 21% at Ulster University were awarded first-class honours degrees.

Twenty years ago just 8% of students at QUB and Ulster University received firsts.

Meanwhile, 60 out of 210 graduates at St Mary's (29%), and 65 out of 270 graduates at Stranmillis (24%), received first-class honours degrees.

That gives a figure of 23% of graduates overall being awarded firsts, representing a sharp rise since the academic year 2011-12, which saw a 15% of students in Northern Ireland reaching the top grade. The most common degree awarded is an upper second (2:1), with around half of graduates - 4,720 out of 9,475 - in Northern Ireland having achieved that degree classification in 2015-16.

The Northern Ireland figures reflect a UK-wide trend which has seen a dramatic increase in the number of firsts being awarded by universities across the country.

The University of Surrey conferred firsts on some 41% of its graduating student cohort last year - more than doubling the proportion it awarded five years ago.

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