Dropout rates at UK universities fell to record lows at the start of the pandemic, official figures show.
Only 5.3% of young full-time students dropped out of first-year courses in 2019-20 – a period that includes the first five months of the Covid-19 pandemic which saw university campuses close in March 2020 and go to distance education.
Despite fears that the rapid pivot to online learning would drive up dropout rates, the opposite was true; attrition rates for all first-year students fell by 1.4 percentage points from the previous year, according to new data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).
This is the lowest dropout rate recorded since Hesa began collecting national statistics, he said.
Only 9.4% of full-time first-degree students in the UK are projected to leave higher education without reward, a drop of 1.7 percentage points from the previous year, and also the rate the lowest ever recorded. According to projections, some 82.1% of full-time graduate students will complete their studies at the same higher education institution with which they started.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said it was ‘welcome to see that for the first time it is expected that over 90% of students will achieve a qualification – the highest rate ever recorded’.
“This is real progress, impacting real lives – and I want to thank our universities for their hard work, particularly through a difficult pandemic, to reach this milestone,” said Ms Donelan, who added: “I have long argued that when it comes to college, succeeding is just as important as getting into it, and that universities need to focus on tackling student dropout rates .
The non-continuation rate for mature first-year entrants fell even more sharply, from 13.5% to 11.9%.
Hesa said that “the increase in the proportion of entrants continuing their higher education after their first year cannot be directly attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, but there is often a trend of increased enrollment in higher education in times of economic uncertainty”.
“This behavior can extend to a desire to pursue degree studies when other pathways outside of higher education are less certain,” he added.