Drop-out rates rise at two-thirds of universities, new analysis reveals

Responding to the figures, universities minister Chris Skidmore says every university and every course should be held ‘individually accountable’ for high drop-out rates

Student drop-out rates have risen at two-thirds of UK universities and colleges since 2011/12, a new study has found.

The analysis from the Press Association revealed that, from 2011/12 to 2016/17, 100 higher education institutions recorded a rise in the proportion of students dropping out after their first year of study.

It found that the drop-out rates fell at 31% of institutions and remained unchanged at just four universities and colleges.

The analysis was based on data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for 150 universities and colleges and covers full-time undergraduate students in the UK who were no longer in higher education the year after they started their course.

The universities of London Metropolitan, Bolton, Northampton, Suffolk and the Highlands and Island have the highest non-continuation rates in the country, with between 14% and 19% of students not returning for their second year of study.

The University of Abertay saw the largest proportional increase of any university in the country, with drop-out rates rising from 3.5% to 12.1%. A spokesman for Abertay said the university “recognises that there is a need to improve student retention”.

I want to see each university and, indeed, courses held individually accountable for how many students are successfully obtaining a degree – Chris Skidmore, universities minister

Responding to the latest figures, universities minister Chris Skidmore said: “I want to see each university and, indeed, courses held individually accountable for how many students are successfully obtaining a degree, so that we can be transparent and open about where there are real problems.”

The link between drop-out rates and unconditional offers has been flagged by the university watchdog.

Last year, the Office for Students revealed that drop-out rates were 0.65 percentage points higher – or 10% higher as a proportion – for students accepted to university with an unconditional offer. The number of such offers made by universities has risen sharply in the last five years, from just under 3,000 in 2013, to nearly 68,000 in 2018.

Last year, data from HESA analysis revealed that the gap in drop-out rates between wealthier and poorer students under the age of 21 at UK universities has widened. It revealed that 8.8% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in 2017 did not return to complete their second year of study, compared to 6% of students from more advantaged backgrounds. The universities with the highest drop-out rates named in the latest study also have a high proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Read more: Students with mental health condition more likely to ‘drop out’ – OfS

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