UEL takes steps to tackle first-year failure rate

December 12, 2003

Former higher education minister Margaret Hodge famously linked so-called Mickey Mouse degrees with the unacceptably high dropout rates found at institutions such as the University of East London, whose Dockland campus is in her Barking constituency.

UEL's dropout rate is certainly high: it was projected that some 29 per cent of full-time students starting first-degree courses in 2000 would not gain a qualification or transfer to another institution.

The figure is identified as significantly higher than its benchmark by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Yet, the dropout rate is much reduced compare, with the previous year when it was 33 per cent.

Crucially, the UEL excels at attracting students from poor backgrounds.

Some 42 per cent come from the lowest three socioeconomic groups. This compares with a location-adjusted benchmark of 33 per cent.

Mike Thorne, vice-chancellor of UEL, acknowledged there was much to do, but was proud of progress so far.

"We are working on all these areas with enormous energy. These are early indications but welcome," he said.

"Lots of students leave because they run out of money. Our job is to make sure we are not contributing to that problem.

"We are questioning the students and have had consultants in. We are investigating what goes on in the classroom and looking at the curriculum and assessment."

Professor Thorne said that in terms of employment, someone from an ethnic minority in London was twice as likely as a white graduate to be unemployed. "Some 60 per cent of our students are from ethnic minorities," he pointed out.

"We have put on extra courses for students who have not found jobs, to prepare them better for interview. We have turned our careers service into an employment service."

The university is also pioneering a scheme that places graduates in hard-to-fill local authority posts in an attempt to boost graduate employment.

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