UK: Law is the hardest subject to get a first class degree in - study
Students of justice. Image via Shutterstock.

Law has the lowest number of first class degrees awarded in the UK, according to the latest data by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

Compared to other subjects, only 13.4 percent of students graduated with a first class degree, which is about 10 percent lower than the total average of 23.6 percent for all non-clinical subject areas (see table).

Students taking combination courses and Mass Communications & Documentation also struggled to earn first-class degrees, with only 17.2 percent and 18.9 percent respectively earning a first class degree.

Whereas the top three subject areas with the highest number of first class degrees was Mathematical Sciences (37.4 percent), followed by Engineering & Technology (33.1 percent) and Computer Science (32.8 percent).

Here are the full results of the findings:

Subjects allied to Medicine 27.6% 43.6% 71.2%
Biological Sciences 21.9% 52.0% 73.9%
Agriculture & related subjects 21.6% 48.1% 69.7%
Physical Sciences 28.8% 46.9% 75.7%
Mathematical Sciences 37.4% 35.5% 72.8%
Computer Science 32.8% 37.9% 70.6%
Engineering & Technology 33.1% 41.0% 74.2%
Architecture, Building & Planning 23.5% 47.6% 71.0%
Total – Science Subject Areas 27.8% 45.1% 72.9%
Social studies 19.7% 54.3% 74.0%
Law 13.4% 57.9% 71.3%
Business & Administrative Studies 21.4% 46.2% 67.7%
Mass Communications & Documentation 18.9% 54.8% 73.7%
Languages 22.4% 60.8% 83.2%
Historical & Philosophical Studies 20.9% 62.8% 83.7%
Creative Arts & Design 23.9% 50.3% 74.1%
Education 19.6% 50.2% 69.9%
Combined 17.2% 42.3% 59.5%
Total – Non-Clinical Subject Areas 23.6% 49.6% 73.1%

Despite awarding the least first class degrees, law was among the top three subjects that had the highest number of upper second class degrees awarded, at 57.9 percent. Legal Cheek noted that many U.K. law firms require training contract candidates to have a minimum of a 2:1 degree.

History & Philosophical Studies topped the table in terms of number of upper second class degrees awarded at 62.8 percent, followed by Languages at 60.8 percent. The average figure for upper second class degrees awarded was nearly 50 percent (49.6 percent) of the student cohort in 2015/2016.

The new data also found that there were more female law students (61.7 percent) than male students, reflecting the general higher proportion of female students (56.5 percent) than male students in the UK.

Law students are also among the most ethnically diverse in the country, with 34 percent of law students coming from black or minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds, surpassing the national average figure of 22 percent. In comparison, for Historical & Philosophical Studies, only 11 percent of its students are from BME backgrounds.

The results table above excludes the clinical subject areas of Medicine & Dentistry and Veterinary Science, in which the majority of degrees awarded are not subject to classification.

The data by the UK official agency analysed the 2,280,830 students studying at 163 higher education providers in the UK in 2015/16.

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