Number of first-class degrees falls for first time since records began

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has recorded a fall in the number of first-class degrees awarded for the first time.

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

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

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 and comes after universities in England pledged last July to reverse degree inflation.

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.

The pandemic saw a rise in grade inflation following the introduction of policies to mitigate the impact of disruption from Covid, including open-book exams.

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% compared with 2020/21, with the number of students from India rising by 50%.

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%.