11/01/2018 10:41 GMT

More Than A Quarter Of Students Get Top Honour As Proportion Awarded First Rises

More than one in four students graduated from university with a first last year, as the proportion awarded the highest honours soared.

New official figures show that the proportion with the highest possible result has risen by almost 50% in five years.

The statistics are likely to spark fresh debate about grade inflation and whether the centuries-old degree classification system is fit for purpose.

Overall, 26% of graduates who completed their first undergraduate degree in the 2016/17 academic year achieved a first – up from 18% in 2012/13.

This means that the proportion achieving the highest honours has increased by 44% in five years.

The data, published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), also shows a hike in the proportions gaining a first or 2:1, with three in four (75%) achieving this benchmark in 2016/17, up from just over two thirds (68%) in 2012/13.

The figures show women were more likely to graduate with a first or upper second than men (77% compared with 72%).

Those who studied full time were more likely to obtain one of these results, at 76%, compared with 54% of part-time students.

There were also regional differences, with 75% of students at English universities gaining a first or 2:1, 78% in Scotland, 71% in Wales and 76% in Northern Ireland.

The figures, which cover UK universities and colleges also show:

The number of part-time students fell by 4% between 2015/16 and 2016/17

414,340 first degrees were awarded in 2016/17

Overall student numbers increased by 2% between 2015/16 and 2016/17

81% of students at UK universities and colleges came from the UK in 2016/17. This figure has been the same since 2013/14

6% of students were from the EU and the remaining 13% came from outside the EU