John Denham provoked the ire of academics in his last week as Universities Secretary by suggesting that higher dropout rates at some universities could be the result of poor teaching.
As official statistics on student retention and access were published, Mr Denham wrote to the Higher Education Funding Council for England to voice his concerns.
"No doubt there will be a number of factors to explain why certain institutions have particularly low retention rates. However, it seems likely that the quality of teaching and the student experience will be important components," the letter says.
The University and College Union said it was "outraged and astonished" by his comments, while Les Ebdon, chair of the Million+ think-tank, said there was no evidence for the claim.
The letter adds that the Quality Assurance Agency may consider retention rates in future audits.
Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that among students starting full-time first degrees in the UK in 2006-07, the proportion who had dropped out a year later was 9 per cent, up from 8.6 per cent in 2005-06. The proportion of young full-time undergraduate entrants from state schools in 2007-08 rose from 88.3 to 88.5 per cent, but those from lower socio-economic groups fell from 30.3 to 30.1 per cent.
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