Universities giving out high numbers of firsts

Soaring numbers of firsts are being handed out by universities, with some institutions giving at least a third of degrees the top honour, official figures show.

Virtually all UK universities and college have seen an increase in firsts in the last five years, according to a PA news agency analysis of official data.

The findings come at a time when universities are under intense pressure to be transparent about how they award degrees and to address concerns about grade inflation.

PA’s analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency figures shows that at 25 out of 157 UK universities and colleges – 16% in total – at least 33% of degrees awarded in 2018/19 were given a first.

Of these, seven were Russell Group universities – widely considered among the UK’s leading institutions.

In addition, 99 institutions – 63% overall – gave at least one in four (25%) of degrees the highest honour, the analysis shows.

Of the main, non-specialist universities, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine gave out the highest proportion of firsts, with 48% of degrees awarded the top result.

The university, which is part of the Russell Group, has seen a 13 percentage point rise in the proportion of firsts awarded since five years ago, in 2014/15.

Two, smaller, specialist institutions gave out a higher proportion of firsts last year.

These were the Royal Academy of Music (52%) and AECC University College, which specialises in health sciences (50%).

The analysis also shows that 138 out of 153 institutions with comparable data saw at least a one percentage point increase in the numbers of firsts awarded in a five-year period (between 2014/15 and 2018/19).

These figures are all rounded to the nearest whole percentage.