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The number of first-class degrees awarded has fallen for the first time after a crackdown on grade inflation during the Covid pandemic.

It marks the first time that the HESA has recorded a fall in the number of first-class degrees awarded since it was founded in 1993.

However, the percentage is still higher than it was before the pandemic.

It comes after universities in England pledged last July to reverse degree inflation, following the introduction of policies to mitigate the impact of disruption from Covid including open-book exams.

Universities UK and GuildHE promised that by 2023 they would bring the proportion of upper second and first-class degrees back in line with pre-pandemic levels.

In 2021/22, 32 per cent of undergraduate degrees were awarded a first-class honours classification, a fall of four percentage points from 36 per cent from the year before, the HESA said.

However, 46 per cent of students were awarded upper second-class degrees in 2021/22, the same proportion as in 2020/21.

The total number of higher education students increased by four per cent to  2,862,620, while there was a two per cent increase in first year enrolments.

Susan Lapworth, the chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS), welcomed the reduction in first class degrees.

The OfS had previously warned that grade inflation may negatively impact students – a warning echoed by Michelle Donelan, the then education minister.

‘Welcome decrease towards pre-pandemic levels’

Ms Lapworth said: “Today’s figures show a welcome decrease back towards pre-pandemic levels in the proportion of first class degrees awarded to students graduating in the 2021-22 academic year.

“Last year, members of Universities UK and GuildHE committed to address the rising proportion of first class and upper second degrees and pledged to return to pre-pandemic levels of grading.

“We welcomed that commitment and will continue to monitor trends in classifications to understand factors that may contribute to the sector’s performance.

“Left unchecked, grade inflation can erode public trust and it is important that the OfS can and does intervene where it has concerns about the credibility of degrees.

“Universities and colleges understand that they must ensure that the degrees they award are credible and properly represent students’ achievement. This is the way to maintain the confidence of students, employers and the wider public in higher education qualifications.”

HESA statistics released on Thursday also show a significant change in where foreign students are coming from.

The number of non-EU domicile first year entrants rose by 32 per cent compared with 2020/21, with the number of students from India rising by 50 per cent.

Altogether there were 350,325 non-EU domicile first year entrants, with 126,535 of them coming from India.

In contrast, the number of EU domicile entrants fell by 53 per cent.


https://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/news/2023/01/19/TELEMMGLPICT000307584311_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqUdpOC9bYgtt5lYSWGPsSUndK9jbskw4gK8A2cMQhPWg.jpeg?impolicy=logo-overlay

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