UK universities: More students awarded firsts and upper seconds

By Angela Harrison
Education correspondent, BBC News

Image caption, Women make up more of the undergraduate population

More students at UK universities are being awarded firsts and upper second class degrees, new figures show.

A total of 64% achieved this level in degrees awarded last year, up from 60% in 2006-7, while 15% got a first.

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) also shows a continuing rise in the number of students coming to the UK from overseas.

And there has been a sharp fall (8%) in those enrolling to study part-time.

The Hesa statistics cover all areas of the UK.

They show that 66% of first degrees awarded to women in 2010-11 were either firsts or upper second class.

Among men, 61% of first degrees were awarded at this level.

More women than men are studying for degrees - they accounted for 57% of first degree graduates in 2010-11.

The figures show that about one in six (53,215) of those graduating last summer was awarded a first.

In 2006-07, 36,645 did so and in 2009-10, the number was 46,825.

Overseas students

In total, 83% of those enrolled at universities in the UK are from the UK, while 5% come from other European Union countries and 12% from outside the EU.

Numbers coming from outside the EU rose by 6% from 2009-10 to 298,110, while those coming from other EU countries rose by 4% to 130,120.

At the same time, there was a 1% fall in UK students enrolled at UK universities.

In total, the number of students enrolled at universities in the UK is 2,501,295.

The numbers signing up to study part-time for the first year of a degree fell by 8%, while first-year enrolments were down as a whole by 3%.

When just first year enrolments are examined, there has been a 1% rise at post-graduate level and a fall of 5% at undergraduate level.

In both cases, declines in numbers of UK students have been off-set by those coming from overseas.

The past year has also seen a big increase in the number of students overseas studying for UK qualifications without coming to the UK - for example by attending an overseas campus of a UK university, or studying for a UK degree by distance learning.

Numbers rose from just over 400,000 to just over 500,000.

'Disappointing decrease'

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK said: "As in previous years, the proportion of firsts and 2:1s awarded has increased marginally. But A-level performance has also improved in recent years, so it is unsurprising that degree results would also show an improvement.

"However, it has been clear for some time that the current degree classification system is a blunt instrument for assessing achievement, hence Universities UK's support for the ongoing trialling of the Higher Education Achievement Report (Hear)."

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the university think-tank million+, said: "At a time of economic difficulty and rising unemployment, the decrease in students enrolling at university is disappointing.

"Demand for places reached record levels. Rather than threatening to fine universities if they exceeded their student numbers, the Government should have funded more places."

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