Fewer than one in seven Australian university students drop out before completing their courses, according to a study by the Australian Council for Educational Research.
The researchers followed about 7,000 young Australians from the time they were in Year 9 at school in 1995 until they enrolled at university in 1999 or 2000.
Those who went to university straight from school were tracked to late 2001, when they were about 20 years old. The report said three quarters of those starting university persisted with their initial courses, while 12 per cent changed courses and less than 14 per cent dropped out.
Vice-chancellors seized on the report to claim that such a small dropout rate was very encouraging.
John Mullarvey, executive director of the Australian Vice-chancellors'
Committee, said: "These findings dispel the current sentiment of Education Minister Brendan Nelson that there are high and unacceptable levels of attrition."
However, a previous study by federal Education Department researchers, which followed a larger groups of students, came to different conclusions.
It found that more than one in three students quit before their final-year examinations, among the highest attrition rates in the world.
This study tracked more than 126,000 Australian undergraduates over five years from 1992. While 34 per cent had dropped out by 1997, 60 per cent finished their courses and the remaining 6 per cent were still studying.
The Acer report said that dropping out did not mean the end of education and training: a third of the dropouts had moved to the vocational education and training sector by age 20 and, overall, 76 per cent were in full-time education, training or employment.
The Acer report is available at www.acer.edu.au