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14% of first class degree attainment unexplained by changes in the graduate population

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OfS analysis of changes in degree classifications

The proportion of UK-domiciled, full-time first degree graduates attaining a first class honours degree from an English higher education provider has increased from 16 per cent in 2010-11 to 29 per cent in 2017-18, an overall increase of roughly 80 per cent over the period.

For the same graduate population, the proportion attaining a first or an upper second class degree has increased from 67 per cent in 2010-11 to 79 per cent in 2017-18.

In December 2018, the Office for Students (OfS) published ‘Analysis of degree classifications with time: Changes in graduate attainment’ (OfS 2018.54), which uses statistical modelling to investigate changes in the proportions of graduates attaining first or upper second class degrees over the academic years from 2010-11 to 2016-171 . The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment also published an analysis investigating this issue in November 2018 .

Both reports concluded that the growing proportion of the first and upper second class degrees awarded cannot be fully explained by factors linked with degree attainment, whether graduate or higher education provider characteristics.

This report builds on OfS 2018.54 by expanding the time and the domicile scope of the graduate population considered to all UK-domiciled graduates who qualified in academic years from 2010-11 to 2017-18 inclusive. Improvements in classifying the equivalent entry qualifications of individuals have also been made.

These changes mean that the results presented in this report differ in some cases from those published in OfS 2018.54. While the results in each report are thus not directly comparable, the changes do not affect the overall conclusions of either report.

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Our new report “Analysis of degree classifications over time Changes in graduate attainment from 2010-11 to 2017-18” finds that in 2017-18, across the 148 providers considered, 13.9 percentage points’ worth of first class degree attainment is unexplained by changes in the graduate population since 2010-11.

UUK response to OfS report on grade inflation

Alistair Jarvis100x100Commenting on findings from the OfS analysis of changes in degree classifications, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

“Universities are already taking steps to tackle grade inflation. 

“The report we recently published outlines a number of measures to protect the value of qualifications over time that are currently being consulted on by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment. 

“It is essential that the public has full confidence in the value of a degree.”

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