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.

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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.