In 2021, one-third of Northern Ireland students achieved the highest degree grade

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In 2021, Northern Ireland’s universities experienced a 50% increase since 2016/17 in awarding top degree grades to approximately one-third of students.

In the academic year 2020/21, the percentage of students attaining first-class degrees was 33%, marking a notable increase from fewer than 25% five years ago.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has released these figures, which reflect similar trends in Northern Ireland as seen across the entire UK.

The academic years impacted by the coronavirus pandemic witnessed a noteworthy increase in top degree grades.

The HESA suggests that the implementation of measures by universities, such as acknowledging the ongoing challenges faced by students and modifications to exams, could be contributing factors to the increase.

Since March 2020, numerous students have experienced considerable disruptions, with several degree courses being conducted entirely online until the resumption of on-campus teaching in September 2021.

According to the figures provided by HESA, approximately 3,500 first-degree students in Northern Ireland were granted first-class honours in the academic year 2020/21.

However, the most prevalent classification remained an upper second class, attained by 5,320 students, which accounted for slightly over half of those who received a first degree qualification in 2020/21.

Approximately 1,600 students obtained a lower second class or pass degree. It is important to note that universities have the authority to determine their own degree grading systems.

The HESA statistics indicate an increase in the number of students enrolling in universities both in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK during the academic year 2020/21.

From 2019/20 to 2020/21, there was a notable 12% increase in the number of undergraduate students commencing full or part-time degree programs in Northern Ireland, rising from 12,210 to 13,685.

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Additionally, there was an increase in the number of students initiating postgraduate qualifications. Despite concerns that the pandemic might result in more students deferring their university entry, this does not appear to have been the case.

According to the HESA statistics, in 2020/21, over a quarter of Northern Irish students were enrolled in universities outside of Northern Ireland, studying in England, Scotland, or Wales. The data indicates that approximately 16,500 students from Northern Ireland were pursuing higher education in those regions.

Approximately 49,000 Northern Irish students were enrolled at Queen’s University, Ulster University, St Mary’s University College, Stranmillis University College, or pursuing studies through the Open University.

Nevertheless, the Department for the Economy has recently released separate figures indicating a significant decline in the enrollment of students in further education colleges in Northern Ireland. On the other hand, the HESA statistics reveal that universities in Northern Ireland have been successful in attracting substantial numbers of international students from countries such as India and China.

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