Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

25% of Students get a 1st class degree - surely some mistake?

 25% of Students now graduate with a 1st class degree

The Times newspaper reported this week that 25% of all undergraduates finish up with a 1st class degree at the end of their time at University. This is compared with 17% in 2012 and (probably) considerably less than this as you go back over time.

Does this mean that
  1. Lower numbers of students go out on the lash midweek and get completely wasted?
  2. More students have increased their intelligence levels and therefore able to achieve higher grades?
  3. The drugs have got better at most UK universities?
Or does it mean that Universities have worked out a way to increase their funding and/or market their courses and demonstrate success to prospective students? Hmm.

I suspect the latter, although anecdotal evidence does suggest that considerably less students now spend their 3 years in the student union bar.

Anecdotal Evidence

We see increasing numbers of 1st class degree students getting nowhere with their careers whereas if you go back 15 years you would be very unlikely to see a 1st class graduate out of work unless that was their own wish.

It also begs the question whether there is a problem now getting a 2.1 degree, as over 2/3 of students end up with a 2.1 or a 1st class degree (again the Times have reported this). 

Dumming Down?

This surely has to be the dumming down of education – someone somewhere has worked out that someone somewhere is going to financially benefit from allowing more students to graduate with a 1st class degree. There can be no other logic to this – why would you allow more students to gain a 1st class degree if there is no benefit from doing so?

Granting more 1st class degrees may make good statistics, but it makes it increasingly difficult for students from certain universities to get a job when they graduate off the back of their degree result.

Employers start to get used to seeing 1st class degrees on CVs and the universities risk losing their credibility with companies if every CV seen during a recruitment drive is from a graduate with a 1st class degree.

1st class degrees used to be a virtual shoe in for some companies – in the legal sector you could virtually guarantee job interviews left right and centre. You name a city law firm – they would probably interview you. 

Lack of Guaranteed Success for 1st Class Graduates

I am not so sure this generalisation is applicable anymore. Now I suspect the employers look at the university who have awarded the degree and make a decision on more than just the academic results.

This is a real shame, as any student will agree, it is very hard indeed (or at least it was) to get a 1st class or very high 2.1 degree. It takes months of hard graft and consistent academic excellence, both of which employers have traditionally appreciated.

If the 1st class no longer has the same meaning it does make you wonder whether all the effort was really worth it. 

Request for Statistical Evidence

If any University has statistics demonstrating that 1st class degree awards have not unilaterally increased without any clear evidence of a similar increase in educational attainment I would be gratefully to receive them and publish along with this article…

Jonathan Fagan is a bitter and twisted law graduate with a very high 2.1 degree (I missed a 1st by a couple of percentage points – honest!). He is also Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment and a non-practising solicitor. You can contact him via for comment.

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