University grade inflation: number of first-class degrees doubles

New OfS figures reveal that 29% of graduates last year received a first-class honours degree

The number of graduates receiving a first-class degree has doubled since 2010/11, new figures from the Office for Students (OfS) reveal.

Last year, one in three students graduating an English university received a first-class degree.

The proportion of students graduating with a first-class degree has nearly doubled from 16% in 2010/11 to 29% in 2017/18.

The OfS says its statistical modelling, which takes into account entrance qualifications and student characteristics, does not account for the rise.

We recognise that there are factors that could explain the increases – for example improvements in learning and teaching – that we have not been able to measure in our analysis – Susan Lapworth

The report found evidence there was a “statistically significant unexplained increase” in first class degrees awarded by 94% of providers since 2010/11. The watchdog says “13.9% of first-class degree attainment remains unexplained”.

In the same time period, the proportion of upper second-class degrees dipped by 1.6% and the proportion of other degree classifications fell by 12%.

There are now more first-class degrees awarded than lower second-class and third-class degrees put together.

Susan Lapworth, director of competition and registration at the Office for Students, said: “The performance shown in the new data pre-dates our call for the sector to take action on grade inflation, so we would not expect to see the impact of such actions in today’s report.

“Following today’s publication, the OfS will be contacting those universities and providers with the most significant unexplained increases in degree classifications. We will ask them to provide further information to help us understand how they account for these increases. In seeking this additional information, we recognise that there are factors that could explain the increases – for example improvements in learning and teaching – that we have not been able to measure in our analysis.”


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