£800m funding fails to slow university drop-out rates

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The Independent Online

University drop-out rates are as high as ever despite an £800m cash injection aimed at encouraging students to stay on in further education, a report reveals.

Five years after the Government launched a major initiative to cut drop-out rates, new figures show that more than 100,000 people each year quit within a year.

A report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee shows that 22 per cent of full-time students are no longer studying two years into their courses. In the first year, the drop-out rate is nearly 9 per cent, with 28,000 full-timers and 87,000 part-timers throwing in the towel.

Edward Leigh, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said the drop-out rate had not changed from 22 per cent in the five years since the committee's last report. "This is despite some £800m being paid to universities over the same period to help retain students," he added.

Courses with the highest drop-out rates include science, engineering and maths. Continuation rates for maths and computer science are three percentage points lower than the national average.

The former polytechnics and colleges of higher education have done best in widening participation in degree courses to youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds, but they have the worst staying-on rates. Members of the elite Russell Group have the highest retention rates.

The report prompted concern from opposition MPs and lecturers' and students' leaders. Gemma Tumelty, president of the National Union of Students, said: "It is worrying that those institutions which are most successful at widening participation are also the ones that struggle most with retention."

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education minister, said drop-out rates in England compared favourably with the rest of the world.

The worst retention rates

Retention rates after one year of degree course

1 Bolton 81.6%

2 Chester 81.7

3 London 83.3

4 London Metropolitan 84.5

5 East London 85.2

6 Thames Valley 85.3

7 Sunderland 85.5

8 Liverpool Hope 85.7

9= Roehampton, Bedfordshire 86.2

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