The measure of dropouts

December 11, 2014

I read with interest the leader on the National Audit Office’s report into financial support for students at “alternative” providers (“Failing to look, listen or legislate”, 4 December).

In particular, relying on the NAO report, the article suggested that dropout rates of more than 20 per cent at some alternative providers compared unfavourably with 4 per cent across the sector and said this “demonstrates the strength of…mainstream universities”.

The alternative provider dropout rates are misleadingly based on Student Loans Company data that treat as “dropouts” students whom the SLC initially mistakenly assessed as “eligible” for loan support and then, when correcting the mistake, treated as withdrawing from the institution named in the, sometimes fraudulent, application – even though the institution had not encouraged or endorsed the application and had never enrolled or even heard of the applicant.

As regards dropouts in the Higher Education Funding Council for England sector, it sets individual institutional benchmarks for categories of students, based on socio-economic variables, and the Higher Education Statistics Agency publishes tables that show that for mature full-time “other” undergraduate students those benchmarks exceed 14 per cent for more than 20 UK universities and are higher than 20 per cent for several institutions.

There is no convincing evidence that alternative provider performance is worse than that of the publicly funded sector if allowance is made for the characteristics of the student cohort. However, it does seem that alternative providers may be proving more effective than Hefce institutions in attracting “non-traditional” students.

To inform this debate, the alternative sector too requires reliable benchmarking data to avoid popular opinion being influenced by prejudice.

I am confident that fair comparison will show that, in value for public money terms, the quality-oriented alternative providers, such as the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF), compare well with The Open University and other Hefce-funded institutions with a sizeable commitment to widening participation.

Then you may indeed experience an OMG moment of the kind described in the leader.

Maurits Van Rooijen
Rector and chief executive officer
London School of Business and Finance

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Worried man wiping forehead
Two academics explain how to beat some of the typical anxieties associated with a doctoral degree
men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes