Student statistics show no further rise in first-class degrees

New student statistics in the UK show overall student numbers are up – but rise in first-class degrees has stalled

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has released its student data for the 2018/19 academic year.

Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2018/19 shows a 2% increase in overall student numbers in the UK. There were a total of 2,383,970 students in 2018/19.

It also revealed the proportion of graduates gaining a first-class degree remained at 28% – the same level as in the previous academic year.

First-class degrees

In response to the publication of the HESA data, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

“This data shows us that the rapid increase in the rates of students being awarded first-class degrees has stalled. This arrests a long-term trend, with significant, year-on-year increases having been seen since 2011. Previous analysis from the OfS found evidence of unexplained increases in the rates of first class degrees at 94 per cent per cent of universities.

“We will analyse this data further and report in the spring. We will use statistical modelling to determine the proportion of first class degrees which can’t be explained by things like entry grades or the make-up of the student body.

The rapid increase in the rates of students being awarded first class degrees has stalled.

“Grade inflation risks undermining public confidence in higher education for students, graduates and employers alike. We will continue to seek action to address these issues, both across the higher education sector as a whole and, should it be necessary, at individual universities. This will help ensure that everyone can be confident in the value of degrees which students work so hard to achieve.”


Read more: Grade inflation: new survey looks at degree algorithms


EU and non-EU students

According to the new data, the number of first year students from European Union countries (excluding the UK) rose by 2%. This follows a post-EU referendum drop-off in 2016. Within the UK, Scotland has the greatest proportion of students from other EU countries.

The number of students from non-EU countries rose by 10%. The number of first year students from China rose by 13%, and 35% of all non-EU students overall were from China. This is more than any other overseas country.

Other findings

The statistics also showed the overall number of first year students aged 30 and over increased in 2018/19.

The number of students studying part-time has risen by 1%.

Of the degree subjects on offer, business and administrative studies is seeing the highest increase in students enrolled.

A further open data publication Higher Education Student Data, 2018/19 will be published on 5 February. This will include more detailed breakdowns from the 2018/19 HESA Student, AP Student and Aggregate Offshore records.

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