Just over a third of students in Ireland's fast-growing institute of technology sector drop out or fail their exams in their first year in college, a study shows.
The highest leaving/failure rate was in engineering and the lowest in science. The institutes, which enrol more students annually than the universities, offer two-year certificate, three-year diploma and four-year degree courses as well as limited postgraduate options.
Students in the institutes tend to have more class contact hours and practical workloads than those in the universities. The study examined non-completion rates in three institutes at Carlow, Tralee and Dundalk.
There have been very few published studies in Ireland on non- completion but the researchers - Anne Carpenter, Margaret Healy and Kathleen Lynch - insist that the 37 per cent attrition rate is in line with other countries for comparable courses and colleges.
Wanting a different career was the main reason given by the students for leaving or failing in their first year.
Other reasons were low levels of educational attainment at college entry (particularly in mathematics), lack of information and guidance on courses, unsuitable career choices, difficulties with some subjects, and personal and financial problems.
Slightly over half the students in the institutes were employed part-time and a substantial proportion worked excessive hours. A quarter of those who failed or left worked 16 to 20 hours a week, while a further 12 per cent worked 21 hours or more.
Students from professional, salaried and skilled manual backgrounds were significantly more likely to leave than those from semi-skilled and unskilled manual and farming backgrounds.
The great majority (90 per cent) of those who left were pursuing other occupational or educational goals and only 8 per cent were reported to be unemployed.
Despite this, the drop-out rate is worrying, as Ireland is suffering from skills shortages, particularly in computing.
A recent report to the government recommended measures to improve retention rates and Michael Martin, the education and science minister, has invited the institutions to submit proposals for extra funds to keep students.