The UK's higher education system classifies degree results in a graded system. The highest grade you can achieve is a First, also sometimes referred to as a First Class Honours degree. A relatively small percentage of undergraduates achieve this level each year but this is rising.
The classification system
Students in the UK who are studying for a degree will be graded at the end of their courses. This system works from First to Third for those who pass their exams. The highest achieving students are awarded a First, or, in a small number of cases, a Double or even Triple First, or a First Class Honours With Distinction (a Starred First). Second Class Honours degrees are split into two - the Upper Second (2:1) and the Lower Second (2:2). A Third is the lowest award you can be given as a passing grade, although some colleges give out Ordinary degrees as the lowest pass. If you don't pass your course, you may be awarded a Fail or an Unclassified.
Degree class percentages
The majority of UK students are awarded a Second Class degree and only a relatively small percentage achieve a First. Universities and colleges all have their own assessment and marking systems and it is not possible to state the exact percentage you need to achieve to be awarded a First. Rough estimates average this at 70+ percent. This can be a lot higher, however, in some distance learning institutions such as The Open University, which is estimated to award at 85+ percent.
The number of students awarded firsts
According to the UK's Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), an average of 16.5 percent of students studying for their first degree in the academic year of 2011 to 2012 achieved a First. This works out at an approximate one in six ratio. This is based on four classifications: full-time study, part-time study, men and women. Students studying full-time had a 17 percent pass rate at this level; those studying part-time had a 15 percent rate. Men and women achieved an equal rate of 17 percent each.
Changes in degree awards
The statistics for the 2011 to 2012 academic year show a 16 percent increase on the previous year. These figures have doubled over the last ten years which has caused concern that the education system is dumbing down, especially as the increases are higher than the associated rise in the number of students going to university.