End-of-term plaudits

July 20, 2007

This week universities received end-of-term report cards in the shape of the annual performance indicators. And, in the time-honoured tradition of report cards, the verdict is, broadly speaking, "some improvement but could do better".

First produced nine years ago to allow institutions to compare and thereby improve their performance, the indicators provide a wealth of useful information but carry only two main messages.

One is the immense resilience of UK higher education in the face of significant change. Hands up those who thought widening access and higher tuition fees would put dropout rates through the roof. In fact, the national dropout rate for full-time degree students in 2007 is probably about 16 per cent, not far off the 18 per cent in 1999. That is an astonishing achievement.

The second message is that UK higher education is enormously efficient. Unlike other countries with similar or higher participation rates we do not generate stratospherically high dropout rates as collateral damage.

The performance indicators do not paint a uniformly rosy picture, but the gradual annual improvement in most indices belies the herculean effort institutions have devoted to progression over the decade.

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