The number of students dropping out of university rose by 10 per cent last year, while the number of those leaving after failing their exams rose by 20 per cent, according to a survey published yesterday.
Universities said the main reason for dropping out continued to be financial hardship. They denied that the figures meant that the standard of university entrants was falling because of the rapid expansion in student numbers.
About 32,000 (60 per cent) of the 54,000 students who left early did so for non-academic reasons, an increase of 5 per cent on the previous year (1993-94).
A spokesman for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said that universities did not think more students were being admitted who could not cope with the courses.
"We think there are still plenty of people who could benefit from university courses but who don't at the moment."
Reasons for dropping out were difficult to disentangle, he said. "Financial hardship and academic failure are often connected. Students fail their courses for economic reasons."
They may be working their way through university and spending too much time doing a part-time job and not enough in the library.
Forty per cent of those who dropped out were mature students, aged 21 and over.
The overall drop-out rate appears to be levelling off. A survey two years ago showed the number of students leaving early had risen by 30 per cent.
Around three-quarters of universities responded to the survey which shows that one-third of all students did not receive their grant cheque in time for the start of the 1994-95 year.
n Ministers are considering setting up a database to combat student fraud. Eric Forth, the schools minister, yesterday invited tenders for a feasibility study into the plan, estimating that millions of pounds had been lost in fraudulent grants.
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