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Why are dropout rates increasing in UK universities?

dropping out of university
UK students are dropping out of university - are students to be blamed or do universities play a big role in the problem? Source: Shutterstock

Drop-out rates among university students in the UK are going up.

According to data analysed by the Press Association, two-thirds of universities have recorded a rise in student dropouts over the past five years.

The proportion of young people at some universities leaving after a year has increased by more than five percentage points, official data shows.

A report by The Times said critics attribute the rising number of dropouts to universities admitting too many students who lack the academic skills required for a degree. Others suggest that some students need greater support to make the transition from school to university.

Data analysed by the Press Association found that from 2011-12 to 2016-17, 100 higher education institutions – or 67 percent of the 150 universities and colleges analysed – saw an increase in the proportion of students dropping out.

Meanwhile, 46 institutions (or 31 percent) saw a fall in dropout rates, while the figure was unchanged at four universities and colleges.

In Scotland, the University of Abertay in Dundee had the biggest increase, with an 8.6 percentage point rise, from 3.5 in 2011-12 to 12.1 percent in 2016-17. 

A spokesman was quoted saying that Abertay had one of the highest proportions of disadvantaged students in Scotland. He added that they recognise “that there is a need to improve student retention” and are introducing measures, including recruiting more student advisers. 

Over in England, Bedfordshire University had an increase of 6.9 percentage points, rising from 8.3 percent in 2011-12 to 15.2 percent in 2016-17.

A spokeswoman said: “As a widening participation university our students can face challenging barriers to success. She added that many Bedfordshire students are “balancing the responsibilities of family and work with studying for a degree,” and “unable to turn to the bank of ‘mum and dad’”.

Other universities that also saw a sharp rise in dropouts were London Metropolitan, Bolton, Northampton and Suffolk. London Metropolitan had the highest dropout rate at 18.6 percent.

The Times notes that overall, 6.3 percent of young full-time students dropped out during the first year in 2016-17, up from 5.7 percent in 2011-12.

In the US, dropout rates have reached “crisis” level. Around four in ten students who started college in the fall of 2012 did not earn any degree six years later, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. At two-year community colleges and for-profit four-year schools, around six in ten do not complete their studies.

Why do students drop out of university?

dropping out of university

Many factors can contribute to students dropping out of university. Source: Shutterstock

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

According to The Times, the Office for Students said that unconditional offers were a cause of concern behind this trend. They said the dropout rate for students who had accepted such offers was 10 percent higher than would have been expected if they had accepted conditional offers.

They also attributed poor courses rather than poor students for high dropout rates.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Universities UK was quoted saying by i newspaper: “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.”

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