According to HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency), the average dropout rate of undergraduates across UK universities is about 8% of those starting the degree course, but this varies widely across institution and course. This equates to a staggering 27,000 undergraduates in any one year!
The research agency YouthSight has recently carried out a survey on student satisfaction and has drawn some very interesting and useful conclusions, which could help you with your new life as a university undergraduate. The key insight was that there is a very strong link between the experience which students enjoy in the first few weeks at university and the dropout rate. First impressions are very important.
At universities which were rated as “excellent” by the students and had high student retention, it was the quality of teaching and their particular course, which were given as the most important factors. Pastoral care was also stressed as important, and universities which “had lots of things organised for new students”, “responded quickly to queries”, were “supportive” and had friendly staff attracted plaudits.
Although, universities try to make sure that freshers feel as welcome as possible, the experience is considerably different from how they were treated at school. This transition can be very difficult to overcome for some students. You have to make sure you are proactive to make the most of the new opportunities. See this report for the top 20 most welcoming universities:
It is not just the university which is the key determinant of the dropout rate, the course is also a contributing factor. Computer science has the highest dropout rate and medicine the lowest. There is a more analysis at ‘the complete university guide’ website:
Dissatisfied students cite the failure of their institution to make adequate arrangements for newcomers, and complained about difficulties obtaining information about university societies and support services. According to James MacGregor, director of higher education research at YouthSight, “usually well-regarded universities that do not make the effort with new undergraduates are unnecessarily flirting with higher non-completion rates later.”
The reasons for students leaving their university course early are:
Accommodation; living in one room in a block can be a big change from what you were used to at home and, despite living around other students it can be a lonely experience.
Finances; be able to budget will be very important. Running out of funds or accumulating debts can be stressful.
Timetable; the course timetable will be very different from school life. Rather than being spoon-fed, it is very dependent on individual motivation, especially in the humanities where there are few lectures and little tutor contact.
Lifestyle; independence can be exciting, but it can also be very hard work. There’s no-one to tell you to come home early, but there’s also no-one to cook, clean, wash your clothes, pay the bills and so on. Doing these chores for the first time can be daunting. Think about leaning to deal with this before you go away.
Distance from home; choosing a university a long way from home might seem like a good idea, but at 18 it is very common to feel homesick especially in the early months. Don’t be too far so that it makes a weekend trip home complicated.
Social life; you have to be prepared to meet many different people in a new environment.
To support this, three of the universities with the lowest retention rates are based in London (South Bank, London Met and East London) where many of these issues are magnified.
Peter Sleigh, Vice Chancellor of Huddersfield University, believes there are three main reasons for students dropping out:
Making the right choices; there are many options of university and courses to choose from. Having this much choice doesn’t always help the candidate. It is essential to spend a lot of time researching what’s going to work for you.
Transition; to university life away from home.
Independent study; at university you must learn to be organised and self-motivated. It is a very different experience from school.
Overall, one of the main criticisms for the dissatisfaction comes has been cited as overselling. Universities are guilty of overselling as they market the university lifestyle and facilities in a glamorous way in order to attract the best talent. Students can also be guilty of being overambitious in overselling their capabilities in order to secure a coveted place in a prestigious university. Both can lead to longer term unhappiness.
What can you do to increase your chances of having an enjoyable and successful time at university? Now with the burden of tuition fees it is very important to prepare well so you know what to expect.
There are some excellent short, easy-to-digest guides on offer. A couple we would recommend are: