Students walking in the snowy mountains carrying cameras

Reported in an insightful paper published by think-tank Social Market Foundation nearly 6% of university students drop out after their first year with 20 institutions reporting a figure of 10%. At universities such as the London Metropolitan University, the number rises to one in five (20%).

This figure has apparently remained “stubbornly” high, with retention rates failing to improve since 2010, and very few institutions have managed to make significant improvements.

With tuition fees as high as they are, dropping out after one year means at least £9,000 worth of debt, whilst including a student’s maintenance loan this may be as much as £20,000. At the same time, their career prospects will not have improved over the year.

Why are students dropping out?

University is expensive

Universities which report high drop out rates, such as Bolton, Teesside, Leeds Beckett and Central Lancashire traditionally take a high proportion of local students in areas where there are more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report noted that drop out rates differ between low participation and high participation areas, (6% compared to 8% respectively). Student loans barely cover rent and transport costs for students, and if students have to juggle working alongside studying and finding that they just don’t have enough hours to do both, studying will eventually be lower priority.

Students from less disadvantaged backgrounds will be more able to ask their parents for money to help them along the way, and can therefore take out some of the stress with less hours in part-time work.

University is increasingly being regarded as the only option

Many students have reported feeling that going to university is seen as the only thing to do when leaving school. However, for most young people it’s unrealistic to think that they know what they want to do with the rest of their lives when they haven’t experienced the real world. Students often find themselves being pushed into university, it being their only option, and once they’ve arrived they regret their decision.

For a lot of young people, having a year out to explore different options by working in a cafe or taking a year travelling may help them feel refreshed and ready to learn if and when they do attend university.

Increase in student numbers

With the removal of the cap on student numbers more students that ever are attending university and this will, in turn, imply more non-finishers. At the same time, offering more students the chance to go to university means that more young people who aren’t necessarily suited to university education attend.

The Social Market Foundation report noted that for universities ranked in the top 20 (taking the most students suited to university), the drop out rate was only 3% whilst for the rest it’s 7%.

Learning at school and learning at university are worlds apart; at school you're effectively told everything and things are very controlled, whilst university you’re left to your own devices. A lot of new students struggle with this new-found "freedom" and need more direction.

If you were never the “academic-type” but have found yourself in the university environment, you might find this new form of learning just too difficult to contend with.

Increase in the cost of university

Perhaps counter-intuitively, an increase in the cost of university through tuition fee rises and the removal of student grants may cause more students to drop out.

Moving away from home, making new friends and settling in are already big factors for 18-year-olds, but having to confront the fact that this will be their only chance at going to university, and that they don’t have the chance to make mistakes may be far too much pressure. If they find that their grades slip or that they are not settling in as well as they hoped, they might find the anxiety too much to continue.

Have you dropped out of university or are you contemplating it? If so, what are your reasons for doing so? We’d love to hear all about it...