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McCartney Uni sees number of firsts given soar

LIPA Photo: PA

A performing arts college co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney has seen the proportion of firsts given out to students more than double in the last five years.

The proportion of degrees given the highest award by the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) rose by 22.3 percentage points between 2010/11 and 2015/16, with more than a third (37%) earning the top honour last year.

Credit: PA

In 2010/11, 14.6% of degrees were a first.

It means that LIPA, co-founded by the former Beatle in his home city in 1996, saw the biggest rise in firsts during this five-year period out of all UK universities and colleges, according to a Press Association analysis of official data.

A LIPA spokesman said:

As a small specialist institution with intensive vocational teaching, small class sizes and a highly selective and detailed recruitment process we expect high attainment of our students.

This is reflected in LIPA's gold award in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) - the first major assessment of higher education teaching standards.

– LIPA spokesperson

The TEF was introduced by the last government in a bid to gain more evidence about teaching and learning in UK universities, with proposals to link quality to tuition fee increases. Institutions which took part were given a bronze, silver or gold rating.

The analysis, based on information for 148 universities and colleges with comparable data, and excluding "unclassified" degrees, also shows that among larger, mainstream institutions, Surrey University had the largest increase in firsts, with the proportion doubling from almost a fifth (19.3%) in 2010/11 to more than two fifths (41.2%) in 2015/16.

Surrey's vice-provost for education and students, Professor Jane Powell, said:

The analysis also shows that The Royal Academy of Music gave out the highest proportion of firsts last year at 64.3%.

A spokeswoman said that competition for places on the Academy's courses is intense and the quality of students is high.

Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine had the biggest proportion of firsts among larger, mainstream institutions, with 41.8% of degrees awarded the top award last year.

– Professor Jane Powell

The increasing proportion of first class degrees earned by our students reflects a combination of national trends and the University of Surrey's concentrated focus on enhancing all aspects of our educational provision.

This has been reflected in progressive increases over the last five years in student satisfaction with teaching, assessment and feedback, with learning resources, and with academic support.

We place consistently highly in national league tables which draw on multiple indicators.

It is very pleasing to see this high level of commitment by both staff and students translating into excellent degree results, the rigorous standards of which are confirmed by external independent assurance processes.

Just behind Surrey was the University of East Anglia (UEA), which saw the proportion of firsts rise by 21.5 percentage points in five years from 12.5% to 34%.

– LIPA spokesperson

EA pro vice-chancellor (academic) Professor Neil Ward said:

Over this period we have focused on improving teaching staff numbers. Excellent student:staff ratios are essential to our students achieving good degrees, so between 2008/09 and 2015/16 we invested an extra £20 million a year and increased staff numbers by approximately 400 (full-time equivalent).

This has led to our student:staff ratio moving from 18:1 to 13.3:1 and meant more academics to support students. We have also introduced a range of initiatives to support student learning and increase study time, such as peer-assisted and interactive digital learning and opening our library 24/7 for 365 days a year.

Added to this, the improvement in our degree results reflects the higher level of qualification of students coming to UEA, as the entry tariff has risen from 359 to 431 over the period.

– Professor Neil Ward