Belfast Telegraph

Student drop-out rates at Queen's and St Mary's rising, report shows

Queen's University
Queen's University

By Alison Kershaw

Two-thirds of universities and colleges have seen an increase in the proportion of students dropping out in the last five years, official figures show.

In some cases, non-continuation rates have risen by more than five percentage points.

Queen's University Belfast saw a 0.6 percentage point increase, while at St Mary's University College the rate rose by 2.1 percentage points.

However, at Ulster University the rate fell by 1.1 percentage points.

The figures come at a time when UK universities are under greater scrutiny and pressure to be more transparent about areas such as drop-out rates and graduate outcomes.

One expert said that students can end up feeling demoralised if university does not work out for them, but that leaving early does not mean that they should not have gone at all.

Data was analysed covering the five-year period from 2011/12 - the year before tuition fees in England were trebled to £9,000 - to 2016/17, the last year for which data is available.

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It reveals 100 UK institutions (67%) saw an increase in the proportion of students dropping out.

At just under a third (31%), some 46 institutions, non-continuation rates fell during this period, while at four universities and colleges the proportion remained static.

The University of Abertay, Dundee, had the largest increase, with an 8.6 percentage point rise over this five-year period, from 3.5% in 2011/12 to 12.1% in 2016/17.

A spokesman for the university said the institution "recognises that there is a need to improve student retention" and is introducing measures to do so.

In England, Bedfordshire University had the biggest increase in non-continuation rates, at 6.9 percentage points, going from 8.3% in 2011/12 to 15.2% in 2016/17.

A spokeswoman said that while the institution will "always strive" to improve non-continuation rates, and that there is always more to do, it will not stop the university from "offering the life-changing experience of going to university to students who have the motivation and ability to succeed but for whatever reason have not had the opportunities to do so previously".

Seven institutions had an increase of more than five percentage points in the five-year period, while 19 had an increase of over three percentage points.

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

A spokesman for vice-chancellors' group Universities UK said: "Universities are committed to widening access to higher education and ensuring students from all backgrounds can succeed and progress.

"This includes supporting students to achieve the best outcomes in not only getting into university, but flourishing while they are there.

"Many have specific plans in place to deliver this, for example in England access and participation plans are usually a required commitment for institutions. However, it is clear that non-continuation is still an issue and institutions must continue to work to support students to progress and succeed at university."

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