Olga Wotjas reports from the Society for Research into Higher Education at Heriot-Watt University.
Students who drop out cite course problems and personal difficulties more often than financial pressures, according to a study at Cardiff Institute of Higher Education.
Stephanie Adams, research assistant in Cardiff's student satisfaction research unit, said students aged between 16 and 20 and part timers were more likely to withdraw than older and full-time students.
More than half of former Cardiff students replying to surveys in 1992/93 and 1993/94 had said they were unhappy with the course, compared to less than 40 per cent indicating financial reasons.
Students' comments included: "I felt they needed more lecturers" and "I think the tutors were all quite pushed for time". Almost half of those citing financial reasons complained about the cost of books and materials. One catering student said: "We had to buy uniforms, the knives, the books - I think the bill for that was Pounds 200."
But Ms Adams also discovered a continuing commitment to higher education among the students who had left. Ten out of 43 interviewed had returned to college within six months, while another eight said they wanted to return soon.
Similar findings emerged from a joint study between the Open University and Coventry University of non-completion rates among mature part-time students. "People felt much more positively than we thought," said Vicki Goodwin, an OU senior counsellor.
"They were saying 'I'm interested in studying and going back next year; I'm not a drop-out, I'm simply not completing this course."
A follow-up survey several months later revealed that more than 90 per cent of students who had left OU courses were either studying again or registered for future study, while 70 per cent who had been at Coventry were also continuing. Less than 5 per cent were not considering any future study.