Firsts rise again

Percentage of students with top honours increases by 1 per centage point, Hesa statistics show. Melanie Newman reports

January 14, 2010

The percentage of students gaining first-class honours rose again in 2008-09.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency released today show that 14 per cent of undergraduates were awarded firsts, up from 13 per cent in 2007-08. The percentage taking home upper seconds was unchanged at 48 per cent.

Last August, MPs said university vice-chancellors were guilty of “defensive complacency” over grade inflation, pointing out that the proportion of graduates awarded a first had risen from 7.7 per cent in 1996-97.

Today’s Hesa figures also show a slight dip in the number of women graduating in science subjects, despite efforts to increase female participation in these disciplines. Women made up 50 per cent of science graduates in 2008-09, down from 51 per cent the previous year. Female students continued to outnumber males, however: 57 per cent of all first-degree graduates were women, the same as the year before.

Reports that science graduates are in high demand did not translate into increasing numbers of students signing on for science degrees in 2008-09. Forty-four per cent of full-time enrolments were in science subjects and 41 per cent of first-degree graduates achieved their qualification in a science discipline, with both figures showing no change on the previous year.

The Hesa statistics also show a large rise in students graduating with foundation degrees – 18,850 students were awarded a foundation degree in 2008-09 compared with 14,975 in 2007-08, a 26 per cent increase.

Higher education continued to expand in 2008-09, with the total number of enrolments increasing by 4 per cent to 2,396,055. Numbers signing up for postgraduate courses rose by 7 per cent and for undergraduate degrees by 3 per cent.

The figures also show that the number of non-European Union-domiciled students enrolling in British universities increased by 9 per cent (from 229,640 to 251,310). Non-UK students accounted for 21 per cent of all those awarded higher education qualifications by the sector in 2008-09.

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