The increasing number of first-class degrees being awarded by universities is putting their credibility at risk, claims one think tank.

Reform says that rocketing grade inflation has seen the proportion of first-class degrees being awarded doubling between 1997 and 2009 and since 2010 they rocketed by another 26%.

Now the organisation says there should be a national test to set benchmarks for degree grading so that just 10% of students will receive a first class degree.

This test would see final year students sitting a national assessment which would be set by a designated assessment body. This assessment would then help determine how many students will be awarded a particular grade.

They say that if just 10% of students receive a first class degree, the next 40% could be awarded a 2:1, and 40% would be awarded a 2:2. A third class degree would then be awarded to 10% of entrants.

Universities need to act

The education secretary, Damian Hinds, says that universities need to act in a bid to protect their degrees’ value.

However, under the proposals being put forward by Reform, a university would lose their ability to decide which class of degree should be awarded to their students.

In their defence, the leaders of universities say that having a standardised approach would then threaten that independence.

Reform points to its research which revealed that 40% of students at the University of Surrey last year graduated with a first class degree.

In addition, the proportion of 2:1 degrees since 1995 being awarded by universities rose from 40% to 49%. Since 2010 the number proportion of first-class degrees has doubled in more than 50 universities.

Universities make their own decisions

And since universities decide their own grades, the report from Reform highlights the pressure being put on the institution’s academics by senior managers which could explain partly why there’s been a rise in top degrees being awarded.

The report writers also say that degree algorithms that help to translate a student’s marks into a final grade might be to blame.

Tom Richmond, the report’s author, said: “It’s in no-one’s interest to have rocketing degree grade inflation.

“The university might think that easier degrees can attract students but eventually they lose currency and the students will head elsewhere, even overseas.”

He said that by restoring the value of degrees will help deliver better value for money for the £18 billion paid out in tuition fees to universities every year.

Damian Hinds, the education secretary, said: “Students work hard for their results across the country and deserve a system for grading that recognises this hard work.

“It’s why grade inflation in A-levels and GCSEs  had been brought to an end by this government and it’s time that universities do the same.”