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Why are more students achieving the top grades?

By Mariya Hussain

Thursday 5 February 2015 Student Journalists

NUS Journalist Mariya Hussain writes on why the number of students achieving first class and 2:1 degrees has been increasing, with one in six graduates leaving with a first class degree, according to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

The question that has unsurprisingly arisen as a result of these figures is whether the increase is due to grade inflation, or are students and lecturers increasing in calibre? However, the question does not have a simple answer.

The tough job market graduates find themselves being thrust into is a daunting prospect. This, coupled with high tuition fees, has driven many students to work harder in order to guarantee the best results as four out of five employers are insisting on a minimum of a 2:1 grade. Students don’t want to let their education go to waste, and in order to ensure this does not happen in today’s world, it is necessary to achieve the best you possibly can.

Of course the changing nature of the university – student relationship has had an impact as well. With universities being treated as businesses and students as customers, it is in the interest of the university to keep their results as good as they can be. This can result in a two things that can impact the grades of their students; universities invest more in resources and teaching, or they can be more lenient and generous with their marking, something that can change from university to university as standards are controlled internally. Both of these results help students to gain better grades, and this is something very useful to a university's marketing team.

Better teaching and access to resources are additional factors to consider. From being able to look back at recorded lectures, to having the ability to access hundreds and hundreds of articles and sources online, students have never before been given the opportunity to explore widely with such ease. The technological advances that have been utilised in education have allowed students to be exposed to a more diverse range of thoughts and ideas, as well as improving the way in which we are taught. These advancements certainly have a positive effect on the studies and final grades of students.

The increase in the number of students achieving the top grades can’t be explained to be a result of one simple factor; it is not solely due to either a ‘dumbing down’ of education or a higher calibre of students or teaching. Instead it is the result of many different factors.

Some, a reaction to the current employment climate, others an advancement of technology in education, and a few that need to be looked at, such as the possible disparity between grades at different universities as a result of internal standard control, something that can result in two students having the same grade but a different standard of knowledge.

Despite these factors and the increase in higher grades being awarded, students do not get an easy ride through their studies, hard work and determination is still the basis for success at university.


My name is Mariya Hussain and I am currently in my second year of studying English at King’s College London. Education is something I am very passionate about. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to receive a quality education regardless of race, class, financial means or other causes that can limit a person’s access to education. As a result, I’m very happy to be writing on education!

I aspire to move further into journalism, and am excited to use and develop my skills whilst writing on the student perspective as an NUS Journalist. I’m also a photographer and enjoy using both words and images to share new and interesting stories.