The percentage of students leaving university with first class honours has risen in the last five years, reaching record levels, The Guardian reports.

Nearly  1  in 4 (24%) graduates who gained a degree, graduated with a first class last year, compared with 17% in 2011-12, according to data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The statistics, which account for UK universities and colleges, are expected to open up fresh debate about whether the UK’s degree classification system is still fit for purpose.

In recent years a number of employers have stopped asking for specific degree standards, with one expert saying firms do not want to miss out on highly qualified candidates simply because they did not gain a certain degree.

In 2015-16 almost three in four UK graduates (73%) were awarded at least an upper second (2:1), compared with 66% five years earlier.

A breakdown also shows a slight drop in the proportion of graduates awarded lower honours, with 22% of students gaining a lower second (2:2) in 2015-16, and 5% graduating with a third.

Martin Birchall, a graduate recruitment expert at High Fliers Research, said some employers no longer required a particular degree class.

“In recent years diversity has become a real issue for many employers and they’re keen to have as broad a spread of applicants for their graduate programmes as possible,” he said. “That means they don’t necessarily want to cut out graduates who did not get a first or a 2:1 but have CVs that are jam-packed with other skills and experiences that may be more relevant in the workplace.

A number of employers have realised that if they use a blunt cut-off such as a 2:1 or above, they’re missing out on some great people, so degree classification has become less important.”

He added: “It’s very hard to understand why more and more graduates are getting these top grades. Degrees are not benchmarked as a national standard, so there is no way of telling whether individual universities are becoming more generous in the degrees they are awarding or whether standards are genuinely rising.”