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Media degrees show highest dropout rates in BIS study

Students taking media studies degrees are almost six times more likely to abandon their courses than those taking medicine and dentistry, according to a new study.

An analysis of dropout rates among 105,816 people who applied for undergraduate degrees in 2006 suggests dropout rates vary considerably for different degree subjects.

It also shows those who dropped out of university had lower employment rates and lower salaries on average than those who never entered higher education in the first place.

The report, published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) today, shows that mass communications courses held the highest dropout rates at 6.3 per cent, followed by creative arts and design (4.7 per cent) and degrees under the label “interdisciplinary subjects” (4.5 per cent).

In contrast, medicine and dentistry courses lost only 1.1 per cent of students. Other degree courses most likely to retain their students were in physical sciences (3 per cent), biological sciences (3.5 per cent) and history/philosophy (3.5 per cent).

Only 64.4 per cent of those who dropped out of university had a job at the end of the six year study - compared to 79.1 per cent of graduates and 77.3 per cent of those who never entered higher education.

At the same time, 18.2 per cent of those who dropped out and found work were earning less than £10,000 per year, compared to only 12.2 per cent of graduates and 14.2 per cent on non-university entrants.

The findings, published in BIS research paper no.168: Learning from Futuretrack: Dropout from higher education, also revealed a North-South divide in dropout rates.

Only 3.3 per cent or fewer of students hailing from Greater London, the South East and the South West dropped out - but there was a different picture for those from the North East (5 per cent drop out rate), Wales (4.6 per cent) and the North West (4.5 per cent).

The paper showed students’ prior attainment was a key factor behind their likelihood of continuing their studies. Those with less than 240 UCAS points were approximately twice as likely to have dropped out compared to students with a score of 360 points or higher.

The study also showed that students at institutions with the highest entry requirements were less likely to drop out compared to those at institutions with lower entry requirements.

Other key factors included whether students’ parents had been to university, as well as age: students who were older when they entered HE were more likely to drop out.

The most common reasons given by students for dropping out were either “personal” (35.5 per cent) or they were unsure what they wanted to do (28.8 per cent).

The report was written by written by Dr Andrew McCulloch and colleagues at the Higher Education
Careers Service Unit (HECSU).

“The results show that dropout from HE is not easily attributable to a single cause and it is likely that there are few interventions that will single-handedly yield significant improvements in dropout rates,” the paper’s authors said.

“Interventions therefore need to focus on factors from the multiple contexts which are important for students (e.g. family, schools, and neighbourhoods) instead of considering single factors as independent problems.

“In terms of policy, our results support the conclusion that efforts to increase student retention need to intervene early in respondents’ transition to HE probably before students even apply to university.”

The analysis is based on Futuretrack – a study by researchers at the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick, of all people who applied in 2005/06 via UCAS to enter full time higher education in the UK during the autumn of 2006. Data was collected at four stages between 2006 and 2012.