It has been long enough since I read that I am not sure I can give you much detailed analysis. (As a side note, a word count for essays is pretty typical for US universities as well. I can’t say they break down so clearly by year, but the requirements do tend to get more stringent as the student advances in a given subject.)
I am sometimes tempted to use marking methods that are largely urban myths. For example, I am renovating my house and the stairs that lead to the basement - now stripped of mouldy carpet and laying bare - could be painted with letters, say from A to F, on each successive tread. I could then toss student essays down the stairs and wherever the paper lands determines the grade. This method would at least encourage students to surpass the minimum required word count for essays: Longer and heavier papers would more likely land on the farthest stair tread, onto which I'd paint the A.
Whenever I Have To Reach A Word Count For An Essay - Damn! LOL
A number of schools have recently trimmed the length of essays. For future applicants, the University of Michigan's lowered the total maximum word count for essays by 450 words. The Business School at slashed one essay from 500 words to 250.