13 January 2017
First class degrees at a record high for UK students
Almost a quarter of UK students graduated with a first last year. But is it getting easier, or are students just working harder for their degrees?
The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has released figures that show nearly one in four (24%) students bagged a first class degree last year, compared with just 17% in 2011.
Not only are record numbers gaining firsts, but students are achieving better generally across the board, with figures indicating an increase in 2:1s and a drop in lower class degrees being awarded over the last five years.
Last year, a whopping three in four (73%) graduated with a 2:1, up from 66% in 2011.
So is it getting easier, or are we all just getting a bit smarter?
Is it getting easier to bag a good grade?
Concerns have been raised that universities might be resorting to lifting grades as a way of attracting more students.
The argument is that, using annual league tables, students could be scoping out which universities are most likely to dish out the highest grades, and choose accordingly – although we're not convinced.
Martin Birchall from High Fliers Research has said:
It's very hard to understand why more and more students are getting these top grades.
Degrees are not benchmarked as a national standard, so there is no way of telling whether individual universities are becoming more generous in the degrees they are awarding or whether standards are genuinely rising.
Here's a different theory…
Another potential reason for the increase in high grades could be the increase in tuition fees for UK students (bear with us here!).
The figures released by HESA compare last year’s degrees with those awarded in 2011 – the year before tuition fees tripled from £3,000 per year to £9,000. Could it be that students are simply working harder as they feel under pressure to get their ‘money’s worth’ by walking out with a top class degree?
It's also worth mentioning that in addition to first class grades going up since 2011, the number of students seeking counselling at university has also gone up by 28%.
This has prompted experts to propose a link between rising fees and depression – could this depression also be symptomatic of a pressure to succeed, too? The jury's out!
Does grade inflation affect the job market?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that surely a rise in the number of students getting top grades could only be a good thing, right?
Well, not exactly. Employers are sceptical of the influx of candidates boasting top class grades, claiming it makes it harder for them to scope out the real ‘bright sparks’ amongst so many high achievers.
This has resulted in an increasing number of employers choosing to ignore degree grading in recruitment processes, choosing instead to focus on relevant work experience instead (yeah… all that experience you’ve not had the time to gain because you’ve been working day and night to get a first!).
Some larger corporations have even removed degree qualifications entirely from the entry requirements for their graduate schemes, opting for their own tailored series of tests as an alternative.
However, High Fliers Research say another reason employers are starting to remove “blunt cut-off” degree requirements is in order to increase diversity quotas.
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