The proportion of young students dropping out of degree courses is starting to rise, according to official figures.
New data also reveals that the likelihood of a student not continuing their studies depends heavily on where they study, with almost a fifth of students dropping out at some institutions, compared to virtually none at others.
The figures, published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), show that in 2015/16, 6.4% of full-time UK students aged under 21 taking their first degree did not continue their studies after their first year.
This is up from 6.2% in 2014/15, and 5.7% in 2011/12.
The proportion is down compared to 10 years ago.
“Non-continuation” rates among mature students – those aged 21 and over – are higher, at 11.6% in 2015/16, compared to 11.7% the year before.
HESA statisticians note: “Non-continuation rates among young, full-time first degree students have started to rise in recent years, which is in contrast to the more downward trajectory observed for mature entrants.”
Students at English universities now pay up to £9,250 a year in tuition fees.
A breakdown by university shows wide differences between institutions.
The data shows that in 2015/16, among the institutions for which data is available, London Metropolitan University had the highest proportion of young, full-time students leaving, with 19.5% not continuing their studies.
This was followed by the University of Bolton, with 17% not continuing.
At the other end of the scale, Oxford and Cambridge had the smallest proportions of students choosing not to continue with their studies.
Many of them (our students)
face challenges that will not be familiar to most undergraduatesLondon Metropolitan University
Dr Liz Charman, pro-vice chancellor for academic outcomes at London Metropolitan University, said: “We are proud of our track record of transforming the lives of our students and we’ve seen significant progress in some areas, such as the number of our graduates in highly skilled jobs which has increased by 26% overtaking 45 other universities. However, we recognise there is still work to be done.
“London Met has a high proportion of students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and many of them face challenges that will not be familiar to most undergraduates.
“We recognise these challenges and in 2015/16 launched an intensive cross-University Programme for Improving Student Outcomes (PISO) which explicitly addresses non-continuation rates.
“We have in place initiatives which enable us to identify and make early interventions with students who may be experiencing difficulties, providing a coordinated programme of academic and pastoral care to give them the support they need to complete their courses.”
Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said: “More young people are going to university than ever before, with the vast majority of students complete their courses.
“But we know there is still work to do to make sure more people can benefit from our world-class higher education system.
“We are already taking action to help tackle drop-out rates including the introduction of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework, which is shining a light on the quality of teaching to raise standards in higher education.
“We will also be introducing the Transparency Duty, requiring all providers to publish application, drop out and attainment data by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.
“These measures will not only hold universities to account but will help students make informed choices about where they go to study and get the best value for money.”