THE National University of Ireland (NUI) has strongly defended the 900pc increase in the proportion of first-class honours degrees it awards.
It said that the quality and standard of degrees awarded by NUI Maynooth were externally and independently validated by academics from leading international universities.
A study carried out by Trinity College Dublin ( TCD) said that in 1994 the percentage of firsts awarded by Maynooth rose from a low base of 1.5pc in 1994 to 11.1pc in 2004, and 13.3pc in 2008 -- an overall increase of 900pc.
However, the university said that the majority of graduates in 1994 had studied general degree courses which did not have honours classifications.
"The analysis produced by TCD did not take general degrees into account and is incorrect," it said.
The university added that current undergraduate students were enrolled in honours degree programmes.
In 2009, the cut-off entry points for degrees in the arts at NUI Maynooth was the highest of all NUI institutions; and 13.6pc of students graduating were awarded a first-class honours degree. This accounts for the significant rise in first-class honours degrees over the period under review.
"NUI Maynooth's international standing is reflected in the fact that it is the global education partner for Intel, and home to the Innovation Value Institute, a joint research institute set up by Intel and NUI Maynooth which was awarded to NUI Maynooth in 2006 over the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," it added.
Meanwhile, the president of NUI Galway, Dr Jim Browne, said that the apparent rate in the increase of first-class honours degrees being awarded by third-level institutions "is defensible".
Dr Browne said students were being examined as rigorously as they were in the past, and insisted the increase was "explainable in terms of the system correcting itself to some extent in response to advice from some examiners".