This document explores non-continuation in the UK higher education system. It demonstrates that the UK has the lowest drop-out rate of any OECD country. It also considers which students are most at risk of not completing their courses and what changes could usefully be implemented to reduce non-continuation rates further. 


It would clearly be beneficial to improve the support available for students who are at risk of dropping out and who would benefit from successful completion of their course. The below list of ideas is designed to provide national policymakers and people linked to higher education with a deeper sense of the sort of initiatives that provide quick, cost-effective and efficient ways to help students stay the course.

  1. Use data better: In general terms, we know the characteristics of students who are more likely not to complete. However, we do not always understand which factors are the key ones in raising their non-continuation rates
  2. Focus on specific groups: Small tweaks can have a notable effect on non-completion rates when they are well-targeted. For example, it has been suggested that better accommodation for Clearing students would pay dividends: ‘For institutions reliant on Clearing to boost intake, having rooms available late in the admissions cycle can aid recruitment and retention.
  3. Ensure easy re-entry routes: Given a high proportion of students who do not continue wish to return to education at some point, we need to ensure re-entry routes are smooth and that the student funding rules facilitate this.
  4. Organise exit interviews: For a deeper understanding of the reasons why students withdraw from specific institutions, we need to supplement the quantitative evidence with more qualitative evidence. It is standard practice to conduct exit interviews with departing staff in order to learn why someone has opted to leave their role and to find out whether anything could have been done to stop them leaving. There is an equally strong case for routinely doing something similar with departing students when the affected student is willing and wherever this is feasible



Publication Details
Access Rights Type:
HEPI Policy Note 28