Universities with biggest shares of 2:1s and firsts revealed

Latest Hesa data on degree classification shows where increase in top grades was highest in 2016-17

February 8, 2018
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Eight out of 10 students got a first or a 2:1 at almost 50 UK universities last year, according to the latest figures on degree classifications.

At 10 institutions more than 90 per cent of students managed to attain the two highest degree classes, while at almost a quarter of the country’s universities at least 30 per cent of those graduating got a first.

The figures, driven by another year-on-year increase in the share of students achieving a first, are likely to further add to the debate around grade inflation. Last year, the former universities minister Jo Johnson said that grade inflation was “ripping through English higher education” as plans were unveiled to assess its impact in the teaching excellence framework.

According to the latest data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency on degrees awarded by universities in 2016-17, many of those with the highest percentages of 2:1s and firsts were specialist institutions like music and drama colleges. Excluding these, there was still an increase – to 36 – in the number of mainstream universities where at least 80 per cent of students got a first and 2:1.

Most of the universities with the highest proportions of first and 2:1s were highly selective institutions such as the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Joining them this year as institutions where nine out of 10 students got these marks were Imperial College London, UCL and Durham University, all of which were below this threshold in 2015-16.

Full table showing % of classified degrees awarded by university


Institution% of firsts% of 2:1s% of firsts and 2:1s% of 2:2s% of thirds% point increase in firsts/2:1s

Meanwhile, 15 institutions saw an increase in the share of firsts and 2:1s they awarded rise by 5 percentage points or more, including University College Birmingham, where the proportion rose 13.2 percentage points and St Mary’s University, Twickenham (13 percentage points).

In terms of firsts only, Imperial College London awarded the highest share, excluding specialist institutions, with 45 per cent achieving this degree class in 2016-17. The University of Surrey, which was already identified last year as having the biggest increase in the share of firsts in the sector in recent years, awarded an even greater share in 2016-17, up from 41 per cent in 2015-16 to 44 per cent, the second-highest in the country after Imperial.

The Hesa statistics on degree classifications were released as part of a larger dataset on UK students that for the first time has been made available as an open resource.

It includes data on the number of students by characteristics such as gender, ethnicity and subject studied as well as the level of degree.  

Some other snapshots from the data include that 57 per cent of all undergraduates in 2016-17 were female, 12 per cent of all students were known to have a disability and one-fifth of those coming to study in the UK from abroad were from China.

The subject area with the highest number of students was business and administrative studies, accounting for one in seven of those studying, while 66 per cent of research doctorates were awarded in science subjects.


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