Get them, keep them 1

July 28, 2006

Your story about access and drop-out rates based on the Higher Education Funding Council for England performance indicators ("The hits and the misses", July 21) gives a very negative picture of retention in universities with high proportions of students from low socioeconomic groups. The data you use are not actual retention data, as the table implies, but a complex statistical projection based on historical data. The picture is, therefore, misleading.

The real indicator is found in "non-continuation following year of entry", which gives actual drop-out rates from year one to year two.

(All the research shows that it is in the first year at university that students are most vulnerable.) This is much lower than the projected figure.

Universities such as Wolverhampton work very hard to improve retention, and our drop-out rate for first years is now down to 10 per cent for young full-time students, which is below our benchmark. It is also below the benchmark for young full-time students from low participation neighbourhoods (at 12.5 per cent, benchmark 13 per cent) - a critically important point given the high percentage of students from low soci-economic groups that we take.

So, by looking at different statistics from the same source it is possible (and more accurate) to tell a rather different, and much more positive, story.

Caroline Gipps
Vice-chancellor Wolverhampton University

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