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First-class honours for a quarter of UK graduates

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More than one in four UK students graduated from university with a first-class degree last year, data shows.

The official figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that the share of graduates with the highest possible result rose 44% in five years.

The statistics may spark fresh debate on whether degrees are getting easier and if the ancient classification system is still fit for purpose.

In 2012-13, the first year of higher fees, 18% got a first.

Overall, 26% of graduates who completed their first undergraduate degree in the 2016-17 academic year achieved a first.

The data, published by HESA, also shows a hike in the proportion gaining an upper second (2:1) or above, with three in four (75%) making the grade.

This was up from just over two-thirds (68%) in 2012-13.

The figures show women were more likely to graduate with a first or upper second than men (77% compared with 72%).

Those who studied full time were also more likely to obtain one of these results, at 76%, compared with 54% of part-time students.

There were also regional differences, with 75% of students at English universities gaining a first or 2:1, 78% in Scotland, 71% in Wales and 76% in Northern Ireland.

University of Buckingham professor of education Alan Smithers said unlike with national exams such as GCSEs and A-levels, universities were “free to award as many firsts as they like” and had “every incentive to do so”.

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