Grade inflation for first-class degrees stalls

Tuesday 21st January 2020 18:46 EST

Latest figures from the Office for Students, England’s higher education watchdog, show that rapid annual growth in the proportion of students awarded first-class degrees has stalled, after significant annual increases since 2011.

The sharp increase follows warnings from ministers of the need to prevent "grade inflation" devaluing degrees. The latest figures show 28% of students were awarded first class degrees in 2018-19 - the same as the year before.

England's higher education watchdog, the Office for Students, had attacked "unexplained" increases in top grades. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students (OFS), said the latest figures showed an end to successive increases in first class degrees every year since 2011.  Over those years the proportion of students getting a first had risen by 80%.

The latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show 28% of candidates were awarded first class degrees, 48% upper second, 19% lower second and 4% third class - with all these the same as the previous year.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said grade inflation was "something we had to stop" to protect the reputation of the UK's universities. Meanwhile Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, suggested the stalling in top grades reflected the pressure put on universities.

Statistics from the OFS show:

l the number of students in higher education reached a record high of 2.38 million - up by about 40,000 on the previous year

l the number of female students has continued to climb more quickly than for men - with 57% of students female in 2018-19.

l the biggest increase in recent years has been Asian students - with numbers up by 20% since 2014-15

l the number of black students has risen by 17% across those years - but for white students, the numbers are below where they stood five years ago.

The Reform think thank said the figures were "dire" in terms of widening access into university for disadvantaged youngsters.

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