The proportion of students dropping out of university increased from 6.6% to 7.4% between 2012 and 2015, according to a report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF).
In a report the SMF has urged universities to improve their retention rates, particularly among students from low income or ethnic minority backgrounds.
The SMF study notes that many of the disadvantaged groups targeted through widening access programmes are also the groups most likely to drop out.
It says institutions with a higher in-take of black students, students whose parents work in lower level occupations or students who come from low university participation areas are more likely to have higher drop-out rates. Almost 9% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds drop out of university without finishing their first year.
Drop-out rates are highest in London, suggesting that the increasing cost of living and the financial pressures this causes contributes to the rising drop-out rates. In contrast the drop-out rate in Yorkshire is 7%, slightly below the national average.
The abolition of maintenance grants is seen by some as a factor hurting less affluent students who struggle to make ends meet. With higher education proving to be a major topic in the recent general election, the government has urged universities to publish the number of students who drop out each year.
A spokesperson for the Deparment of Education said: “The Higher Education and Research Act will go further by requiring all providers – including the most selective – to publish application, drop-out and attainment data by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.
“This will hold universities to account and help students to make informed choices about where they go to study.