York Awards Fewer 2:1s And Firsts Than Any Other Russell Group

The University of York awarded a lower proportion of First and 2:1 degrees than any other English Russell Group university, according to new data released by the Office for Students.

In 2018-19, the most recent year for which data is available, 84.3% of degrees awarded by the University were either firsts or 2:1s, with this figure over 5% below the English Russell Group average, and the lowest of the 20 universities that make up the group in England.

The data on first class degrees awarded paints a similar picture, with York’s 28.4% below the overall UK average, and only above Liverpool and Newcastle of the English Russell Group universities.

One second-year student told York Vision they were concerned that “a first is always going to look better to an employer, so it’s sadly a disadvantage to be proportionally behind similar universities, especially to be behind some that are normally ranked below York.”

A University of York spokesperson said that “the University’s percentage of 2:1 and first-class degrees has remained stable over the years, and at a level higher than the average for the overall university sector”. 

“This stability means that a degree from York has the same high value that it has always had”.

Nationally, the Office for Students, which regulates the higher education sector in England, focused on the rapid increase in the proportion of first-class degrees that cannot be explained by factors affecting student attainment.

The regulator found that 14.3% of first-class degrees across the country were “unexplained” compared to 4.8% in York, with this indicator of grade inflation growing each year since 2011, both nationally and in York.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said “it is clear that grade inflation is a significant and pressing issue in English higher education” and that “unexplained grade inflation risks undermining public confidence in higher education, and devaluing the hard work of students.”

Responding to claims of grade inflation, the University said that they “have driven innovation across our teaching and learning activities including programme design, skills support, and campus and digital infrastructure, which has further enhanced students’ ability to achieve their full potential.”

If grade inflation is a greater factor nationally, and in similar universities, than it is in York, it could mean that similar students have, on average, lower degree classifications in York than elsewhere. 

A University spokesperson said that they “are extremely proud of these standards and the academic abilities and achievements of our students,” but there may be concerns that, even if the University is doing everything right, national grade inflation could leave York students behind.