Misleading mechanism

April 28, 2011

Your article, "Hesa shows student body to be broader and stronger" (7 April), showed Birkbeck, University of London listed among those universities with the highest dropout rates for 2008-09. These figures are misleading and warrant further explanation.

In 2008-09, Birkbeck was leading a lifelong learning network of higher and further education providers. The Higher Education Statistics Agency's reporting mechanism at that time required students enrolled on lifelong learning courses at any of the institutions within the network to be reported as Birkbeck students, despite them not receiving any of their teaching at the institution.

A change in the mechanism in 2009-10 meant that these students were then reported by the actual institution that provided their teaching. Therefore, the students shown in the Hesa dropout figures for Birkbeck were in reality just the product of a change in reporting.

The Hesa figures also relate to full-time students enrolled in 2008-09. Birkbeck specialises in part-time higher education courses, and in 2008-09 did not enrol any full-time undergraduates.

David Latchman CBE, Master, Birkbeck, University of London

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