STUDENT LIFE / JAN. 20, 2014
version 5, draft 5

One in Five UK Students Gain a First-Class Degree

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A rising number of students are being awarded first-class and 2:1 degrees according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, prompting claims of grade inflation. Almost  one in five students  graduated with a first-class honours degree (18.4% percent) while more than two thirds obtained at least a 2:1 pass. These figures essentially mean that 8020 more students earned the highest degree classification last summer compared to the previous year.

Is Getting a Degree Easier Nowadays?

Does the first-class degree inflation mean that students get smarter or are qualifications getting easier? The Daily Mail reports that this trend is deemed to be linked to measures by universities to cut down the number of traditional exams that students take in favour of coursework. Good results are in turn said to be easier to achieve in coursework than exams.

The astonishing rise of first-class degree holders also fuels concerns over grade inflation with Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University accusing universities of “intellectual dishonesty” over the awarding of degrees. He supports that the introduction of university league tables have fostered intellectual dishonesty.

"The universities will say it is a reflection of students getting brighter and A-level grades going up. But, as Ofqual (the exams regulator) pointed out, there has been lots of grade inflation at A-level and it would seem this is now filtering through to universities. It means degrees aren’t distinguishing between students…I don’t think we ought to abandon the classification system but we may need to look at introducing a starred-first on top".

Employers Will Demand Firsts Instead of 2:1s due to Competition

Meanwhile, some leading employers are already putting pressure on changing the minimum requirement for a job. They plan to demand first-class degrees from job applicants instead of 2:1s which is the most common select criteria, due to the high volume of graduates achieving top grades. University leaders admitted the 200-year-old degree classification system was a ‘blunt instrument’ for determining the abilities of students.    

Most students who started university this academic year will be given a school-style report along with the main degree classification in an attempt to give employers more information about their breakdown of marks.

The managing director of High Fliers - the graduate recruitment experts, Martin Birchall, argued that “From an employers’ point of view, university degree qualifications can be a good indication of someone’s academic ability but when students apply for a graduate job it is now about one fifth of the equation that recruiters are looking for”. He also added that employers “are also looking at the work experience people have had and the business and personal skills they’ve built up whilst at university".

All in all, the rise in the number of people graduating with a first-class honours degree calls for more drastic measures to reconstruct the current degree classification system so as to help recruiters sift through and select the best graduate talent.

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