Oz gets tough on drop-outs

June 25, 1999

The Australian government is expected to adopt a tougher line with the nation's universities over the high drop-out rate among their students and the cost this imposes on the taxpayer - and the students themselves.

Studies conducted by the federal education department revealed that one in three Australian undergraduates leaves before final-year examinations - one of the highest drop-out rates in the developed world.

Research undertaken into the completion rates of PhD students also found that only 43 per cent of one group of 3,500 students had finished their courses within five years.

Departmental researchers tracked the movement over five years of more than 126,000 Australians who had first enrolled at university in 1992.

They found that 34 per cent of the undergraduates had dropped out by 1997, slightly more than 60 per cent had finished their degrees and the remainder were still studying.

The Australian student drop-out rate compares with 19 per cent in Britain, 35 per cent in America and 9 per cent in Hungary. But Italy leads the world with two out of three of its university students leaving before graduation.

The cost to the Australian taxpayer of student failure, and to the students themselves in terms of tuition fees, has been estimated at more than Aus$400 million (Pounds 165 million) a year.

The study also found marked differences between the sexes, the studies undertaken and the different age groups.

But among all age groups and in all disciplines women were the dominant sex with 64 per cent overall completing their courses in five years - compared with 55 per cent of men.

The success rates of the younger students ranged from 72 per cent for girls who enrolled at age 17 (compared with 64 per cent of boys), to 66 per cent of women and 57 per cent of men who entered university aged 20.

Students studying veterinary science, nursing, health and education recorded completion rates ranging from 70 per cent to more than 90 per cent.

This compared with only 39 per cent of arts students, 38 per cent of those doing science and 36 per cent in business studies.

Those students enrolled in agriculture and animal husbandry had the highest drop-out rate, with 41 per cent failing to complete their courses within the five years.

Part-timers and external students - who comprised more than 40 per cent of the student population in 1992 - were more than twice as likely than the full-timers to be still at university in 1997.

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