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22% of students gain first class degrees

Published 14/01/2016

More students are getting firsts
More students are getting firsts

Nearly one in four students graduated from university with the highest honours last year.

Official figures show that the proportion of graduates leaving UK universities with a first class degree continues to rise - with the numbers almost doubling in the last decade, and leaping by tens of thousands in the last five years alone.

Overall, in 2014/15 more than seven in 10 students - a record 72% - gained at least an upper second (2:1) - the standard often required by top employers, according to data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

And around 22% - a total of 81,640 students - achieved a first. This is up from one in five (20%) who were awarded the top honour in 2013/14.

The proportion has gone up by a half since 2010/11 when 15% (53,240 students) gained a first, and has risen by around 90% compared with 2004/05, when around 11.6% of graduates were awarded a first.

The rises are likely to spark fresh concerns about whether the centuries-old degree classification system is still fit for purpose.

The HESA's latest figures also show that while there has been a steady rise in the numbers of students awarded the highest degree class, the numbers given other lower awards has fallen.

In the last five years, the number getting a third or pass has gone down from 7% to 5% - a drop of about a third, while the number getting a 2:2 has also gone down, from 29% to 23%.

The numbers getting a 2:1 have stayed broadly the same, rising slightly from 48% in 2010/11 to 50% in 2014/15.

Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK, said that the decline in part-time students shown in today's numbers is a cause for concern.

The statistics show that part-time enrolments decreased by 6% between 2013/14 and 2014/15.

"The opportunity to study on a part-times basis is vitally important, both for individuals and for the country," she said. "It contributes towards improving social mobility.

"The Chancellor's Spending Review statement in November announced that student maintenance loans are to be extended to part-time higher education students in England from 2018-19. We hope the changes will help address some of these falls in recent years, but more specific action may be needed."

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