UNIVERSITIES are artificially inflating their grades to look good, a think tank claims.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in 2010 – the year the Government announced tuition fees would be tripled – 12.4 per cent of students at Bournemouth University and 11.6 per cent at Arts University Bournemouth were awarded firsts, however last year those figures had nearly doubled to 22.3 per cent and 20.2 per cent respectively.

A report by think tank Reform states that universities, competing with each other, have altered the way grades are calculated to increase the number of firsts.

It says there is considerable evidence that the UK's universities' degree algorithms, which translate marks into a final classification, are contributing to grade inflation.

Universities claim students are working harder, with better teaching and materials.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, claimed "universities are essentially massaging the figures".

He said: "They are changing the algorithms and putting borderline candidates north of the border."

The competition, in part driven by league tables, has added "extra incentives to award higher marks", Mr Hillman said.

At Bournemouth University, out of the 3,205 students to finish undergraduate degrees in 2017, 715 people were awarded firsts, 1,810 2:1s and 590 2:2s.

In 2010 Bournemouth handed out 360 firsts and 1,405 2:1s, out of a total 2,900 students.

At AUB, out of 915 students in 2017, 185 people were awarded firsts, 435 2:1s and 205 2:2s.

In 2010 AUB handed out 65 firsts and 235 2:1s, out of 560 students graduating.

Tom Richmond, the author of Reform's report, said: "Rocketing degree grade inflation is in no one's interest. Universities may think easier degrees are a way to attract students, but eventually they will lose currency and students will go elsewhere, even overseas.

"Restoring the currency of degrees would also mean better value for money for the £18 billion that universities receive each year in tuition fees."

University regulator the Office for Students agreed with Mr Richmond.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive, said: "It is important that degrees hold their value over time, and if there is artificial grade inflation this is not in the interests of students, employers or the higher education sector."

A spokesman from Arts University Bournemouth said its grades were independently assessed and reflected an improvement in teaching.

"The national and international reputation of Arts University Bournemouth has established it as a centre of excellence.

"This is reflected in the higher awards attained by our students, and is the result of a combination of significant investment in resources and our focus on excellent teaching, which is recognised in the award of Gold status in the Teaching Excellence Framework.

"We would be disappointed if student achievement had not followed suit. All our marks are ratified by external examiners from other reputable institutions."

Bournemouth University did not comment.