University Courses Suffer High Dropout Rates

University Courses Suffer High Dropout Rates

22 September 2017

The Daily Telegraph carried an article in its edition 21st September about the high number of undergraduates who drop out of their university courses. So-called soft courses appear to bear the brunt of the problem, with up to two-thirds of students dropping out within the first year. Among these are courses such as Computer Games Development; Human Resources Management; Film, Media and Music; and Marketing and Consumer Psychology.

I can’t say I’m at all surprised by this, and it wasn’t really the percentages that sparked my interest. The article opens by positioning the story as a piece of new research. The suggestion being that nobody knew these data until recently because such drop out rates have not been measured or shared. In the apprenticeship sector, we have been measured by a range of performance indicators for the past couple of decades. Certainly, when the Training Standards Council was introduced in 1998 as the first inspection authority for workbased learning, data on achievement, retention and drop-out was critical to making judgements about the quality of provision. I am proud to have been with that organisation at the outset and, in fact, was one of the small group of people that started testing the inspection model in 1997.

The point is that such data should be collected and analysed systematically, and all learning institutions should be held accountable for their performance. High drop-out rates are indicative of poor advice and guidance, failing initial assessment and boring, irrelevant delivery. To describe the collection of such information as new research worries me. Has the journalist got this wrong, am I reading too much into it, or is there really such poor data available on how different degree courses perform? It’s the students I feel sorry for. Presumably, most of them have paid substantial fees by the time they leave and they’ve got nothing to show for their money. Yet another reason to consider a good apprenticeship programme as a viable alternative to a degree.

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