Dropout rates are down while access drive has little impact

December 12, 2003

Universities are making slow progress in cutting dropout rates and their efforts to recruit more poor students are also sluggish, according to the latest performance indicators.

The proportion of students expected to drop out of university has fallen from 16 to 15 per cent and the number of students from lower socioeconomic groups entering higher education remains static at about 26 per cent.

There has been, however, a slight rise in students coming from state schools - from 86 to 87 per cent - and underrepresented postcodes - from 13 to 14 per cent.

Many of the universities with the highest dropout rates excel at attracting students from non-traditional backgrounds, who, statistics show, are more likely to drop out for reasons that include lower entry qualifications and financial problems.

More than a third of students are expected to leave without qualifications from London Guildhall University and the University of North London, which have merged to create London Metropolitan University. London Metropolitan disputes the figures.

London South Bank University is expected to have a dropout rate of more than a third.

Nine institutions are projected to lose a quarter of their students. Eight of these have been identified by the funding councils as having significantly higher than expected dropout rates: the Bolton Institute of Higher Education, the University of East London, Thames Valley University, Gloucestershire University, Liverpool Hope University College, Luton University, Sunderland University and Paisley University.

Wolverhampton University, Glasgow Caledonian University, Aberdeen University, Glasgow University and the London School of Economics have also been identified as having significantly higher dropout rates than would be expected, albeit with dropout rates lower than 25 per cent.

At the other end of the scale, University College London is one of two institutions with the lowest dropout rate, equalling Cambridge University at the top of the table. The funding councils identify UCL as having a significantly lower dropout rate than expected: just 1 per cent against an expected 7 per cent. However, it fails to attract large numbers of non-traditional students.

Other institutions with significantly lower than expected dropout rates include Durham, Keele and Aston universities and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Every institution has a benchmark that the funding councils would expect it to achieve, given its entry criteria and the subject mix on offer.

This takes into account the fact that students with low entry qualifications are more likely to drop out and that some subjects, such as medicine, demand higher entry qualifications than others.

Universities and colleges that fall significantly below expected performance benchmarks are named and shamed by the funding councils.

But many of these excel at attracting non-traditional students. Some 16 institutions take 40 per cent or more students from lower socioeconomic groups.

Fourteen of these have been identified as bettering their widening-participation benchmarks: Wolverhampton University, the University of North London, the University of East London, Edge Hill College of Higher Education, London Guildhall University, Luton University, Paisley University, North East Wales Institute, the University of Wales College, Newport, the University of Central England, Coventry University, Westminster University, the University of Glamorgan, and the UHI Millennium Institute.

At the other end of the scale, 12 institutions take 15 per cent or less students from poor backgrounds. Nine of these have been identified as significantly failing to hit their benchmark.

They are the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, St Andrews, Durham, Exeter, Nottingham, Edinburgh and University College London.

For the third time, an employment indicator was published alongside the other indicators. Unlike the others, it is based on a survey completed by graduates. The average response rate was 84 per cent.

Institutions with a strong record of getting graduates into jobs include the universities of Gloucestershire, Hull, Kent and Nottingham Trent. All significantly bettered their benchmarks, with graduate employment rates of more than 93 per cent.

At the other end of the scale are the University of East London, the Bolton Institute of Higher Education and Middlesex and Greenwich universities.

Performance indicators
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