Written by Joanna Hughes

Nearly one out of every three undergraduate students received first-class degrees from UK institutions last year. Building on more than a decade of growth, this represents the highest-ever number of first-class degrees on record. Here’s a closer look the trend, as reported by The Telegraph.

Earning Top Marks

According to data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), of the 110,475 students who completely undergraduate degrees during the 2017-2018 academic year, 28 percent were awarded firsts. This indicates a two percent rise annually since the 2013/2014 academic year and a four-fold increase since the 1994/1995 academic year. In 2009-2010, for example, just 14.4 percent of degrees received first-class honors.

The trend does have some higher education regulators voicing concerns about grade inflation, and UK universities have launched a sector-wide review in response, according to The Independent.

Higher Stakes, More Effort?

However, many students say that the higher scores can be attributed to increased effort and vigilance on their part.

One East Anglia student wrote in an opinion piece for The Guardian, "At my university, firsts are not awarded lightly. They are not easy to attain. I would argue that the first rate has increased across the board because the stakes and standards are so much higher. We’re told every day that the graduate market is saturated, that we need at least a 2:1 and a host of internships, volunteering placements and the like in order to have a chance at a post-uni position. What’s more, tuition fees now stand at £9,250 per annum in England. University is now an investment, and in order for the investment to pay off students simply have to be a lot more savvy."

Another student from Scotland argues, "More and more students are eager to achieve better grades and take university more seriously because they are self-aware of the financial commitment they are making." 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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