Concern has been expressed at the drop-out rate in UK universities (THES, December 3), in particular the national average of students failing to complete a degree (18 per cent) and the poor performance of certain institutions (University of East London, 36 per cent).
But the figures are misleading. They refer not to the percentage of students failing to complete a degree but to a projected rate whose statistical basis is unclear. In the Higher Education Funding Council for England's own figures, the first-year drop-out rate in 1996-97 was 8 per cent for "young" entrants and 15 per cent for mature entrants (UEL 15 and 21 per cent). Moreover, most students who enrolled for degree courses in 1996-97 will have completed last June. It is unfortunate HEFCE has not published the non-completion rate for them rather than a statistical projection, not least as it is the headline-grabbing figures that are causing much concern.
Steve Giles Reader in German studies and critical theory, University of Nottingham