Women are less likely to drop out of university / Image Source/Getty Creative


Students are less likely to drop out of university if they are young, female or privately educated, according to research published today.

An analysis of dropout rates by the Higher Education Funding Council for England reveals they are at their lowest ever, with just 6.7 per cent throughout the UK failing to turn up for their second year.

However, a closer look at the figures reveals that men are more likely to drop out than women (7.6 per cent compared to 5.9 per cent), that black students are the most likely ethnic group to quit (9.4 per cent) while Chinese (at 5.2 per cent) are the most likely to stay on, and that mature entrants are the most likely age group to quit (10.4 per cent compared to 5.7 per cent for younger entrants).

In addition, state school students (6.5 per cent) were more likely to drop out than those who went to private school (3.5 per cent). Disabled students were also more likely to drop out than their able-bodied peers (7.8 per cent rather than 6.2 per cent).

Entrants from areas with little history of young people going into higher education were more likely to quit; London and the north west had the highest dropout rates (nine per cent and 7.7 per cent) while the south west (5.3 per cent) had the lowest.

The figures immediately provoked controversy with the National Union of Students, claiming they showed “unless you meet the young, white, middle class, privately educated traditional mould you have less chance of succeeding at university”.

Megan Dunn, vice-president in charge of higher education, added: “We have a long way to go to close the gaps for disadvantaged students in education and this report just highlights why it is so important to create inclusive, supportive communities within institutions to make sure those from all backgrounds can flourish.”

Professor Les Ebdon, head of OFFA, the university access watchdog, said the fact that more students were staying on was “a positive and welcome finding”.

However, he added: “Students from disadvantaged backgrounds and some other groups underrepresented in higher education are less likely to continue with their studies than their more advantaged peers.

“This finding shows how disadvantage can follow you down the years, meaning that some students might not get the chance to fulfil their potential.”

The analysis also revealed that students on computer science courses (at 11 per cent) were the most likely to quit their courses while those studying medicine or dentistry were the least likely (at 1.9 per cent).

Professor Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE chief executive, said: “There is no room for complacency as we see very different rates for men, students with disabilities, students from certain ethnic minority groups and mature student as well as variations by regions and subjects.”