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More students get top honour as proportion awarded first rises

More than one in four students graduated with a first class degree last year across the UK. Picture by David Cheskin/PA Wire

THREE out of every four degrees awarded in the north receive one of the two top grades, new figures have revealed.

One in four students graduated from university in Northern Ireland with a first last year, as the proportion awarded the highest honours soared.

New official figures show that the proportion with the highest possible result has risen across Britain and Northern Ireland by almost 50 per cent in five years.

Overall, 26 per cent of UK graduates who completed their first undergraduate degree in the 2016/17 academic year achieved a first - up from 18 per cent in 2012/13.

This means that the proportion achieving the highest honours has increased by 44 per cent in five years.

The data, published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), also showed a hike in the proportions gaining a first or 2:1, with three in four (75 per cent) achieving this benchmark in 2016/17, up from just over two thirds (68 per cent) in 2012/13.

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

There were also regional differences, with 75 per cent of students at Northern Ireland universities gaining a first or 2:1, 78 per cent in Scotland, 70 in Wales and 73 in England.

In the north, almost a quarter (23 per cent) obtained a first and 52 per cent a 2:1. A further 22 per cent were awarded a 2:2.

A higher proportion of first were awarded to female students.

In 2015/16, there were 9,475 people who completed their first degree in the north compared to 9,285 in 2014/15, an increase of 2 per cent. Almost half (49 per cent) of degrees awarded in Northern Ireland were in science subjects. For the UK as a whole this figure was 43 per cent.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said the trend was ever upwards in terms of more firsts and 2:1s.

"Many of the country's best-known employers are putting less emphasis on degree classifications," he said.

"Social mobility has become a key part of the agenda for businesses, which means they're often more interested in a graduate's future potential, rather than their past academic achievements.

"Although two thirds of the top 100 employers still have a 2:1 as their minimum entry requirement for new graduates, most now have their own battery of tests and assessments which they use to identify the most able candidates."

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