Universities will be fined if they hand out too many first and 2:1 degrees to be fair to “hard-working students”, the education secretary is threatening.
Damian Hinds said a big leap in the two top awards – to 78 per cent of degrees, up from 67 per cent at the start of the decade – amounted to “grade inflation”, rather than rising standards alone.
Branding it “unjustifiable”, he said new powers to fine universities up to two per cent of their income for failings should be extended to include baseless grades.
The education secretary pointed to analysis published by the Office for Students (OfS) last December, showing that 27 per cent of students obtained a first-class honours degree in 2016-17, up from 16 per cent in 2010-11.
The proportion was strikingly higher at some institutions, including the University of Surrey (50.1 per cent) and the University of Huddersfield (37.9 per cent).
The department for education said the analysis had concluded a rise of that scale could not be attributed to higher attainment at school or changes in student demographics alone.
Mr Hinds said British universities enjoyed a global reputation for “quality and high standards. Unjustifiable, artificial grade inflation threatens that.”