80% Rise in Top Degrees Awarded


There has been an 80% rise in the proportion of first-class degrees awarded to students since 2010-11. For nearly three-quarters of these universities, the top grades are “unexplained,” says The Office for Students.

Research into the rise in first-class degrees found that, compared to the previous seven years, 40,000 more students graduated with a first-class degree last summer.

Susan Lapworth, director of competition for the Office for Students said:

Worries about grade inflation threaten to devalue a university education in the eyes of employers and potential students.

The higher education watchdog said that students arriving from school with better qualifications may be one reason for the 16% to 29% rise in firsts. However, this does not account for much of the increase.

Seven years ago, of students who went to university with three Ds at A Level and below, 40% were awarded firsts and 2:1. This figure has risen to over 70%.

Damian Hinds, Education Secretary commented:

We owe it to the hard-working students and institutions who play by the rules to stamp out this unfair practice.

Today’s figures are disappointing and risk compromising the public trust in the high standards of our universities.

Dame Janet Beer, president of Universities UK said:

Universities are determined to tackle unexplained grade inflation.

The sector’s collective will to take ownership of this challenge is strong, as we recognise it is crucial that we keep the confidence of students, employers and the public, in the value of a university qualification.

Figures from the watchdog show the following rise in first-class degrees awarded from 2010-11 to 2017-18:

  • Imperial College London from 31% to 46%
  • University of Huddersfield: 15% to 40%
  • University College London: 24% to 40%
  • Durham University: 18% to 38%
  • University of East Anglia: 14% to 39%
  • University of Northumbria: 16% to 35%
  • University of West London: 13% to 34%
  • Staffordshire University: 14% to 34%

At the University of Bristol, 92% of students receive a first or 2:1, at Cambridge the figure is 94%.


2019/2020 Deputy Editor. English grad with a love for giraffes, tea and travel.

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