University drop out rates rise drastically in the UK
Students switching degrees in their second year of University or dropping out due to personal reasons is a phenomenon not unheard of, and it would be an impossible task to ever prevent every instance of this. Nonetheless, universities should constantly strive to enhance and reassess student experience to encourage students to continue their path of education.
Hereby, the UK has demonstrated rather positive numbers regarding non-continuation rates among full-time degree students over the past five years: according to Data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), figures for UK university dropouts have wavered very little. In fact, recent statistics from HESA have revealed that 2019/2020 has had the lowest non-continuation rate of full-time, first-degree entrants since UK Performance Indicators have first been observed.
The academic year 2021/2022, however, surprises with a drastic change in numbers: Data published earlier this year by the Student Loan Company points out an overall rise of 28% in the number of English University first year dropouts.
The SLC is in charge of managing student loans hence being notified as soon as a student prematurely discontinues their education and is thus no longer eligible for student loan. Consequently, these figures only factor in students who receive student loans rather than the entirety of UK students.
Demonstrating a radical annual increase of non-continuation levels in Northern Ireland and Wales being twice as high as in England, this statistic nonetheless serves as a wakeup call for the government as well as higher education institutes to immediately take necessary action.
Now, one might wonder what caused this rather extreme increase of non-continuation rates. Can we plainly mark them down as an aftermath of the pandemic? What part does the cost-of-living crisis play?
Fact is, while there is hardly ever only one factor influencing such drastic changes, the rising energy and living costs are surely a crucial factor. If students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, have to decide between heating or eating and subsequently have to take on several jobs in order to make ends meet, their university performance let alone their mental health is bound to suffer severely thus they might be more likely to consider dropping out of uni. According to the National Union of Students, 96% of young adults currently in HE have said that they are cutting back on essential costs such as doing laundry or showering with one third living on a monthly budget of less than 50 pounds.
Being exposed to such rigorous situations, students claim an adaption of rigorous measures with over 90% of them mentioning that the government does not offer enough support. An NUS spokesperson added:
“We are calling on the UK Government to put in place a tailored cost of living support package for students as a matter of urgency. We also need to ensure that the student maintenance package and the apprentice minimum wage is brought in line with the Living Wage.”
The Department for Education’s announcement earlier this year to cap student loan interest rates at 7.3% certainly wasn’t followed by delight, taking in account that students urgently need support in their present cost of living situation rather than thinking about future debts.
Suggestions towards government actions mentioned by NUS include introducing a cap on student rent, reshaping universal credit, and allocating sufficient funding to education providers. Regarding university action, the National Union of Students recommends an implementation of travel subsidies, hardship funds and cheap on campus food among other things.
Additionally, the Office for Students recently revealed that universities will now be required to take effective actions regarding student outcomes such as dropout numbers while potentially facing investigations if not fulfilling a certain threshold. Susan Lapworth, chief executive of the OfS comments on the aim of the scheme:
“Too many students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, are recruited onto courses with weak outcomes which do not improve their life chances. We can now intervene where outcomes for students are low, and where universities and colleges cannot credibly explain why.”
As of October 2022, minimum expectations regarding the outcome of students currently attending HE will be in place: The data being looked at hereby ranges from the number of students completing their course as well as the percentage of graduates going on to further education or successfully starting a professional job within 15 months of graduating. If these numbers turn out to be unsatisfactory, the OfS can intervene and subsequently impose sanctions for a breach of its conditions. The threshold which has been implemented in regard to continuing HE demands a minimum of 75% of students to complete their course.
Lapworth underlines that while most Universities in England meet the expectations, the introduction of these adoptions serve as an incentive for higher education institutes to step in and improve the outcomes of certain courses which appear to be on the weaker side.
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