Over 14% of graduates obtain a first-class degree.

Students across the country are exceling more than ever in their degrees, 47,000 students achieved a 1st class degree this year compared to 2006 where only 35,000 achieved this classification.

Sources suggest that the rise in 1st and 2:1 degrees, can be attributed to an increase in the modular style of courses giving students ‘bite sized chunks’ and the opportunity to retake parts of their degree. Along with this rise in firsts the chance of being awarded third class degrees or unclassified degrees has dropped.

Figures show that the total number of degrees awarded between 2005/6 and 2009/10 rose from 315, 985 to 350,86.


  • The proportion of students being awarded a 1st or 2:1 grew at a faster rate. Those awarded 1st degrees rose by 12,000 to 46,825, a 35% increase, the last year alone saw a 9% increase
  • Number of 2:1 classifications increased by 14% over the last five years
  • Those awarded 3rd class degrees increased from 22,845 to 24,455 meaning, in terms of proportion, students were 7%  less likely to be awarded this classification in 2010 than in 2006
  • Unclassified degrees dropped from 26,815 in 2006 to 25,540 in 2010

Some are calling for an additional classification which is higher than a 1st, such as Oxbridge’s starred first, across all universities so the brightest and hardest working students are recognised. The growing amount of graduates with top degrees could mean that classifications are becoming less important.  The pledge by Universities to start producing a graduate report card, that would list every student’s specific academic achievement, could help this problem.

A Student discusses how the ranking of a university may affect the way an employer can view a classification :

‘But if you went to a lower university outside the top 20 then it does not give you much of an advantage.’

Another student states that having a good degree classification, in addition to A level grades, can assist candidates in getting through the initial screening process:

“It is part of passing through all the levels of filtering good A’ levels > good degree > good application > good interview”

As ever employers do not look at grades alone and are interested in individual qualities that make the candidate stand out.
A university ‘report card’ would make it easier for candidates to present their extra skills that can easily be compared to other applicants, when applying.

Degree classifications are not the be all and end all of an application but they can help with getting through the initial screening processes. In my opinion the rise in 1st class degrees will mean that graduates will need to pick up extra skills to stand out.