Dramatic changes in the proportion of higher classification degrees awarded by some university law departments have been highlighted in a new study.
The poll by Norman Baird, an education consultant and former law lecturer, suggests that the proportion of firsts and upper seconds awarded by some departments has risen sixfold in the past ten years.
Mr Baird, who was a senior law lecturer at Thames Valley University and at Anglia Polytechnic University (now Anglia Ruskin), found that other institutions had seen the proportion of higher awards fall by as much as half over the same period, 1997-2007.
According to data obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, the largest rise was at the University of Wolverhampton, where the proportion of firsts and upper seconds climbed from 4.1 per cent to 26.3 per cent. The second biggest rise was at the University of Glamorgan, up from 17.7 to 36.7 per cent.
Wolverhampton attributed the jump to a move away from distance learning on its LLB course. After the practice ended in 2002, the university had a smaller pool of students who all benefited from on-site teaching.
Conversely, the proportion of firsts and upper seconds at some other universities dropped. The biggest fall was at the University of Greenwich, from 51.5 per cent to 25.4 per cent, followed by the University of Huddersfield, from 57.6 per cent to 39.4 per cent.
Mr Baird said: "There is a considerable amount of variation, but it may not be 'inflation' in the sense of an increase in the proportion of higher awards without an increase in value.
"It may be the case that students are better motivated today than they were ten years ago, or that by drawing from a larger pool, universities now have more capable students."