Degree course dropout rates fall to lowest on record

On average, 2% of students dropped out across Russell Group universities.

17 March 2022

The proportion of young students dropping out of degree courses has fallen to the lowest rate on record, figures reveal.

New data, published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), shows that in 2019/20 the dropout rate for UK students was 5.3%, a fall of 1.4 percentage points on the previous year, and the lowest rate on record.

The data shows that the likelihood of a student not continuing their studies depends heavily on where they study, with nearly a third of students dropping out at some institutions, compared with virtually none at others.

At Arden University in 2019/20, 32.3% had dropped out, while 19.2% had dropped out at Point Blank Music School and 16% had discontinued their studies at London Metropolitan University. In total, 27 institutions had dropout rates of more than 10% out of 179 institutions analysed.

Meanwhile, the Open University and the University College of Osteopathy had dropout rates of 0%.

The Russell Group of elite universities had very low dropout rates. The University of Cambridge had a dropout rate of 0.6% while the University of Oxford saw 0.9% of students discontinue their courses.

On average across the Russell Group, just 2% of undergraduates dropped out after their first year.

The figures also showed that 9.4% of full-time students on their first degree would leave with no degree awarded, a fall of 1.7 percentage points from the previous year, and also the lowest rate on record.

The University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge had a dropout rate of 0.6% (PA)

The HESA suggested that while the increase in the proportion of students continuing with their courses after their first year “cannot be directly attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic”, there is often a trend towards increased university enrolment in “periods of economic uncertainty”.

“This behaviour may extend to a desire to continue degree courses when other paths outside are less certain,” it said.

Minister for higher and further education Michelle Donelan said: “I have long argued that when it comes to university, getting on is every bit as important as getting in, and that universities must focus on tackling drop-out rates among students.

“That is why it is so greatly welcome to see that, for the first time, it is projected over 90% of students will complete a qualification – the highest rate ever recorded. This is real progress, impacting real lives – and I want to put on record my thanks to our universities for their hard work, especially through a challenging pandemic, in reaching this milestone”.

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