MORE than a quarter of university leavers — 414,340 students — gained a first last year as the once-elusive honour continued to become more common.
The 26 per cent of graduates securing the top classification compared with 18 per cent in 2013, a rise of 44 per cent in four years.
Three in four (75 per cent) managed to secure either a first or a 2:1, up from 68 per cent in 2013.
The improving grades have fuelled fears that universities are bumping up marks to boost their ranking amid stiff competition to attract school-leavers.
But Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said the rise might be explained by students working harder because of the high fees they now face.
‘The sector has changed significantly in recent years, with universities putting more emphasis on the quality of teaching and investing in technology and learning support,’ a spokesman added.
The group said degree classifications are a ‘blunt instrument’ when it comes to judging ability.
Several institutions have brought in a grade point average system to give employers a clearer indication.
Seventy-six per cent of full-time students gained a first or 2:1 compared with 54 per cent of part-timers, the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed.
Women were most likely to get good marks, with 77 per cent securing one of the top two grades compared with 71 per cent of men.
Overall student numbers were up by two per cent in 2016/17.