1 National progress in improving retention |
1. Around 28,000 full-time and 87,000 part-time students
starting first-degree courses in 2004-05 were no longer in higher
education a year later. Among full-time students starting in 2004-05,
91.6% entered a second year of study, and 78.1% were expected
to complete their courses.
2. In comparison with most other nations, students
in the United Kingdom are more likely to complete their course
in higher education. According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation
and Development statistics, in 2004 the United Kingdom had the
fifth highest estimated graduation rate. There are some simplifications
in these estimations, however, and higher education systems vary
3. Although by international standards student retention
rates in England are relatively high, they have flat-lined in
recent years with little improvement since the Committee last
reported on this subject in 2002 (Figure 1).
To help improve retention and participation, over the last five
years universities have received around £800 million
in funding for recruiting the types of students who are likely
to need more support to complete their studies.
Retention rates have not improved, though participation in higher
education has been increased from around 40% of 18-30 year olds
in 2001-02 to nearly 43% in 2005-06.
Government priorities have required universities to maintain and
increase retention while also increasing and widening participation.
Figure 1: Continuation and expected completion rates (full-time, first-degree
students), 1999-2000 to 2004-05
Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency's and
Higher Education Funding Council for England's performance indicators
4. Continuation rates are higher in absolute terms
for students in England (91.6%) than in Scotland (89.3%), Wales
(89.7%) and Northern Ireland (89.7%).
There are, however, differences in pre-entry qualifications, educational
structures, finance and types of students. For example, students
in Scotland tend to be younger and have different qualifications
when they enter higher education and study courses that take longer.
5. Higher tuition fees were introduced in England
in 2006-07. In that year, most universities charged full-time
undergraduates £3,000 a year. Funding is available to students
through low interest loans, and those from low income families
have access to maintenance grants and to their university's bursary
scheme. It is too early to say whether higher tuition fees are
having an effect on retention.
An independent commission will be established in 2009 to examine
the impact of the tuition fees regime, as part of the terms of
reference set out in 2004. Its remit will include the impact on
continuation to a second year of study as well as completion of
6. Success in increasing and widening participation
means reaching out to students from backgrounds without a family
or school tradition of participation in higher education. These
students are, on average, more likely to withdraw and, in recruiting
them, the sector and individual universities run the risk of reducing
overall retention rates.
The Department recognises the tension between widening participation
and non-completion, and the Government's previous target required
progress on both retention and participation.
In recent years, retention has held up while participation has
increased and the Funding Council sees no reason to think that
the retention rates will fall as further progress is made towards
3 C&AG's Report, para 1.12; Figure 10 Back
Qq 1, 86; C&AG's Report, para 1.10, Figure 8 Back
Q 42; C&AG's Report, para 2.10 Back
C&AG's Report, para 5; Figure 4 Back
C&AG's Report, para 1.8 Back
C&AG's Report, Figure 9 Back
Qq 31-32, 125-128; Ev 35, 37 Back
Qq 127, 163; C&AG's Report, paras 5, 3.20 Back
Q 164 Back
Q 131; C&AG's Report, Figure 16; HM Treasury, www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/pbr_csr/psa/pbr_crs07_psagrowth.cfm Back
Q 16 Back
Q 56 Back