Yet again, this view is largely the result of people not actually reading what they see fit to comment on.
Briefly, the report looks at the number of non-completers from university between 1999 and 2005, and deduces a probable non-continuation rate of something around 20 per cent for students, with certain factors, such as background, being indicators of likelihood of leaving university.
Cue predictable laments about the decline of the HE system.
The dropout rate is not really a dropout rate - as the authors themselves say:
There are particular difficulties with data about part-time students due to the inherent flexibilites in patterns of studyOr, in other words it's an overestimate because some part-timers take longer to complete than expected.
The next problem for the doom-mongers is on page 17 - a graph taken from the OECD's Education At A Glance, showing, er, that the UK's dropout rate is actually rather low - worse only than Korea, Greece, Ireland and Japan. Ireland's case is especially interesting - as a country whose HE system has grown very rapidly, and now sees greater participation amongst young people than the UK, the lower dropout rate deals a real blow to the popular theory that trying to send 50 per cent of 18-30 years olds into HE is the cause of this 'high' dropout rate.
The most interesting part of this is the historical context, though. Some reports have made a couple of interesting assumptions - firstly that this dropout rate is high - which it may be, but it's lower than almost everyone else.
The second assumption is that it has gone up. This is actually not supportable. The report starts with 1999 because that's when this data first started being collected in a systematic way. And the dropout rate has actually fallen (albeit in a marginal and probably insignificant way) since then. Before that, well, I am not at all sure that systematic, country-wide university non-completion data is really available. And I have looked.
This begs a number of questions. Firstly, and most importantly, what drop-out rate is acceptable? The report itself notes that you can't get, and shouldn't want, a 100 per cent completion rate because many dropouts are actually quite rational. A student learning a series of particular modules that they needed for a career plan. Someone getting a job that they wanted. Children. Someone just deciding that now is not the best time to go to university after all. Japan has the lowest dropout rate at just under 10 per cent, whilst the US runs at nearly 50 per cent. Perhaps we're actually doing rather well. Perhaps our dropout rate is too low? (I don't personally believe that, by the way, but it's worth considering).
And the second is - were things really better back in the day? I can't find any evidence that they were, and I reserve the right to be very sceptical about anyone who says otherwise without any evidence. And that's something that's happening a great deal at the moment.
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