UCD has emerged as the most difficult University from which to get a First Class Honours degree. In 2011, only 12% of the graduating classes achieved this feat, quite below the national average of 16%. It has become consistently more difficult in the last few years to achieve high results in UCD, which in just 2009 had 19% of graduates awarded First Class Honours.

A spokesperson for the University put this down to changing education practices in UCD. “More significantly, the biggest change in university teaching is the shift from course descriptions to learning outcomes. UCD is leading in this field. This focus on learning outcomes means that our students can articulate and demonstrate their knowledge to employers. The university runs an annual module enhancement process, which includes an assessment of student feedback, learning outcomes and grade distribution.”

UCD Students’ Union President Rachel President views this announcement as a positive one for the University. “I think that in a climate where companies and the media are portraying first class degrees as something that is easy to achieve, there’s this myth around the ease of academic achievement, that it’s certainly beneficial from a UCD point of view to show that we are very stringent with the ranking of our degrees and the marks that are given out to students. From the Students’ Union point of view, from the committees we sit on like Academic Council, we don’t have any concerns about the grading process, we’re happy with the methods being used.”

The investment in excellence in education may be admirable but the Irish Times recently reported that in the current climate, 60% of employers are looking for graduates who have achieved at least a 2.1 degree. This is in sharp contrast with only two years ago when 38% were expecting these kinds of results. UCD Students’ Union Education Vice-President Shane Comer put this increase down to, in part, the influx of university graduates but also the understandable need on the part of companies to employ the “best possible graduates.”

UCD ranks behind major third-level institutions such as DCU, where the amount of first-class degrees last year was above the national average at 17%. It also trails behind UCC and TCD where 18% of the Class of 2011 received this accolade. The lower number of Firsts received by our graduates could, however, be put down to the higher standards which are expected of students and the reputation which the University has built up and wishes to maintain.

Of those that graduated from UCD over the last number of years, only 4% received pass degrees. This is in sharp contrast with the overall average which is 10%. 84% of graduates were awarded a second-class honours degree or higher. Comer believes that though this news may add slightly more pressure onto students, they will “value the degree more, have a better degree and get a better job at the end too.”