[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
How to prevent students dropping out
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

lecture hall
Some do a U-turn soon after starting lectures
A university education is supposed to be the beginning of a more prosperous and rewarding life.

At this time of year, around 350,000 people arrive fresh-faced and eager at institutions across the UK.

But, if recent statistics are repeated, one in 10 - or 35,000 - will be leaving before their course ends.

Those who drop out early are more likely to suffer from problems like depression, low self-esteem and unemployment later in life.

'Why are they going?'

And, of course, their brief academic careers are expensive for taxpayers, while taking up a place that someone else could have filled.

Figures compiled for the 2000-2001 academic year by the UK's higher education funding councils show drop-out rates ranged from 1% to 32% at universities.

Sheffield, with a rate of just 2%, was one of the least affected.

Its vice-chancellor, Professor Robert Boucher, advises those new to undergraduate life to think carefully before giving up their studies.

He said: "We would want to find out what was beneath the desire to leave.

Underlying problems

"Was it depression, were they unhappy with the course, or were they not coping with the general situation? Was their girlfriend or boyfriend at another university?

"We try to get to the underlying problem so we can hopefully solve it."

A survey of 15,000 33-year-old drop-outs, carried out by London University's Institute of Education, found 24% thought they had started an unsuitable course.

Many are leaving home for the first time and facing competition for friends and partners. It's not easy for anyone
Robert Boucher, Sheffield University

Many blamed their schools for encouraging them to start unsuitable academic degrees, while ignoring vocational alternatives.

Financial and personal problems were the other main causes cited for dropping out.

Sheffield University has a long-established student support service, called "total care", which includes registering every undergraduate with its own health workers, rather than encouraging them to go to a local GP.

But Professor Boucher thinks there is more to settling young people into a new environment.

He said: "The first thing we do when students arrive is to let them know what being here is all about.

"We tell them about the learning techniques we use, so they can adapt to them in lectures and tutorials.

"I've always said that, if you don't get students' enthusiasm in the first few weeks, you've probably lost 10% of them.

Gap years

"Sometimes they think what they are getting is not what they expected. It's really a matter of taking steps to show them the interesting things that they can do, here and in the wider world."

Studies have suggsted that undergraduates who have taken a gap year are more likely to finish a course, and with a high grade.

Professor Boucher said: "They are often more mature and determined after some time out of education.

"But things are more complicated than that. Many are leaving home for the first time and facing competition for friends and partners. It's not easy for anyone."

Internationally speaking, the news for UK students is good, with the drop-out rate being quite low.

In South Africa, by comparison, a mere 15% of students graduate. Most European nations also have a higher drop-out rate.

Professor Boucher believes universities should do their utmost to retain as many undergraduates as possible.

He said: "There is so much to be gained, it is a waste when people drop out."


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific