One in five students at English universities does not progress straight into the second year of their degree, according to a report that sheds new light on the scale of non-continuation.
Higher education institutions’ dropout rates are published annually and they averaged 7.4 per cent in England in 2014-15.
But those figures are not detailed enough to flag up students who retake their first year or transfer to another university and new figures published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England reveal that almost as many retake year one as drop out altogether.
An eight-year dataset shows that the proportion of students retaking their first year in the same subject peaked at 6.8 per cent in 2014-15, having last reached this level in 2008-09.
Additional students retake the first year at the same institution in a different subject: this accounted for 1.8 per cent of students in 2014-15.
A further 2.4 per cent of students transferred to another university in 2014-15: into the second year of a degree, into the first year of a degree in the same subject or into a course in a different discipline.
This means that the proportion of students continuing straight into the second year of their degree in the same university stood at 81.6 per cent in 2014-15, the lowest figure since 2009-10.
Stephen McDonald, a senior economist at Hefce, said that the report had revealed for the first time the extent of retakes and transfers, describing the proportion of students who did retakes as “quite significant”.
The data reveal that in 2011-12, the year before tuition fees were increased to £9,000 in England, there was a dip in the rates at which students dropped out of higher education or repeated their first year in the same subject.
“It could be that since students knew that the cost of higher education was going to be higher in the future, they were more likely to persist with their original choices,” the report says.
A separate report, also published by Hefce, looks in detail at students who transfer to a different university but remain in the same area of study.
It finds that the rates at which students transfer are highest in London, which it says is most likely down to the fact that there are numerous universities in the city, making switching easier.
Between 2012-13 and 2014-15, 29 per cent of students transferring between universities but remaining in the same subject area went into the second year at the new institution, suggesting that they were able to transfer academic credit. However, male, black and Asian students appeared less likely to be able to transfer credit.
Sixty-seven per cent of students who transferred into year two at a new institution went on to qualify within six years, compared with 94 per cent of students who continued at the same institution. For students who transferred into year one, the figure was 72 per cent.
The report adds that the “limited scale” of student transfers suggests that “more might be done to enable flexibility and choice for students once they have started a first degree”.