First-class degrees on the increase at Scottish universities

The proportion of firsts awarded by UK universities has soared with a third of institutions now grading at least one in four degrees with the top honour, figures released today reveal.

The proportion of firsts handed out by UK universities has soared, with a third of institutions now grading at least one in four degrees with the top honour. Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire

Analysis of Higher Education Policy Institute data shows three Scottish universities – Stirling, Dundee and Aberdeen – are in the top 20 for first-class degrees.

The University of Stirling saw the biggest increase with an increase of 16.2 per cent in first class degrees awarded between 2010-2011 and 2015-2016.

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This is followed by Dundee University’s increase of 15.6 per cent and Aberdeen University’s rise of 13.9 per cent.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute said some increase is not unreasonable, but issues such as university rankings may be fuelling “grade inflation”.

“Some rise is not unreasonable, given that schools have got better and some universities have increased their entry tariffs so they’re getting better quality students,” Mr Hillman said. “There are people who think the system isn’t as robust as it might be,” Mr Hillman said.

A University of Stirling spokeswoman attributed the rise to increased entry standards and quality teaching.

“We are committed to enhancing and delivering the best student learning experience, underpinned by high quality teaching and an enhanced emphasis on assessment feedback.

“Places at the university are highly competitive and our entry standards have risen. Degree awards recognise the excellent performance of our talented students.”

A Dundee University spokesman also cited rising standards as a major factor in the increase in first-class degree.

“We recognise the rise in the figures pertaining to the awards of first-class degrees, which can be attributed to a number of factors but most particularly the standards of our graduates.

“We have seen increased demand for places on many of our courses which has led to more students with higher grades coming to Dundee, where of course they receive teaching of the highest standard, as reflected in our Gold Award in the Teaching Excellence Framework.”

A spokesman for the Russell Group universities, consisting of 24 leading institutions including Edinburgh and Glasgow, welcomed the findings which show students graduating from one of the group’s universities last year were more likely to get a top award than the average for all institutions.

Figures are based on 148 universities and colleges for which there is comparable data, and exclude degrees rated as “unclassified”.