Colleges profile the perfect student

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The Independent Online
UNIVERSITIES ARE launching a campaign to slash drop-out rates by revealing what makes a good student. They are about to publish the most detailed breakdown ever of the personal qualities, experience, interests and exams required for thousands of higher education courses, revolutionising the way students choose universities.

Admissions officials believe the project, to be launched on Thursday, could significantly reduce drop-out rates, currently running at nearly one in five.

Research by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) suggests that more than 20 per cent of second-year students are not sure whether they are on the right course. A separate study found nearly a third of graduates would have chosen a different degree if they could turn the clock back.

The new internet-based system is designed to reduce the number of dissatisfied students by improving the "match" between sixth-formers and the courses they choose.

League tables published for the first time last week showed huge variations in drop-out rates with more than a third of students failing to gain a degree at some universities. But there is also a gulf between the drop- out rates in different subjects, pointing to a link between choices and flunk rates.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of Ucas, which has pioneered the new system, said: "This could have a significant effect on drop-out rates. We think that students are still not necessarily selecting the right courses for them. People might drop out for financial reasons or they might not be academically capable, but you will certainly drop out if you arrive and find the course is not suitable for you."

British students have the lowest drop-out rates in Europe, but the rise in failure rates is now causing concern among university chiefs.

In previous years, students have relied on prospectuses and estimates of A-level entry requirements to decide on courses. The new system is based on thousands of "profiles", each outlining a course-by-course guide to exactly what admissions tutors expect, what personalities and interests they are looking for and what experience they would like to see.

Specially written web pages also give a breakdown of the sort of qualifications required, and details of any access courses or other ways of getting a place.

Keith Hicks, marketing manager at the University of the West of England, which has pioneered the profiles with Plymouth and Hull, said academics had spent two years building up their database. "It is a sort of CV for a course. If you apply for a job you get a detailed breakdown of what it involves. This will do the same for universities," he said.

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