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A sixth of undergraduates now achieve a first class degree

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Official figures reveal that a record number of students were awarded a first class degree last summer, part of an overall trend of improving grades.

61,605 students achieved a first last year, which is a 16% increase on 2011 and treble the number who did so in the late 1990s. A record two thirds of students graduated with at least a 2:1 in the summer, with 68% of female students and 63% of male students getting the top two grades.

However, as graduates celebrate their achievements, there are growing concerns about companies increasingly using 2:1s as a cut-off in recruitment. Last summer, the Association of Graduate Recruitment (AGR) found that 76% of employers screened out candidates who did not achieve at least a 2:1, and that some companies are "considering increasing their requirement to a minimum of a first degree classification due to the high volume of their graduates who actually achieve this."

This has led to renewed calls for overhauling the degree system, with the AGR chief executive, Carl Gilleard, saying:  “It is widely accepted that the degree classification system is barely fit for purpose. As a recruitment tool it is a blunt and inconsistent measure, and so it is a shame it has become so heavily relied upon by employers”.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, added: “Performance in A-level and other examinations has improved, so it is unsurprising that degree results would also show an improvement. However, the sector has recognised for some time that the current degree classification system is a blunt instrument, hence... from autumn 2012, all students entering undergraduate degrees will leave with a Higher Education Achievement Report."

The Higher Education Achievement Reports, or HEARs, are designed to supplement students’ degree certificates, by keeping a record of individual module marks and details of extra-curricular activity undertaken at university, such as volunteering, sports and societies. Held online, the HEARs provide employers with a more rounded impression of candidates and it is hoped that they will combat the increasingly arbitrary sifting of graduates based on degree class.

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