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Executive summary

Purpose

1. This report identifies the outcomes for undergraduate students at the end of the first year of their first degree course. This is done for all UK-domiciled entrants to full-time first degrees at English higher education institutions over an eight-year period between 2007-08 and 2014-15, so that the number and proportion of students with each outcome can be quantified. The report is intended to shed light on the different pathways that can be followed by first degree students with a view to informing understanding of the possible causes of differences in retention and degree outcomes.

Background

2. Non-continuation rates have been published on an annual basis as part of the UK Performance Indicators for higher education since 1999. The rates are calculated by the Higher Education Statistics Agency using a census cohort approach. The Performance Indicators identify the number and proportion of first degree entrants who have each of three year one outcomes: continuing at the same higher education institution, transferring to a different institution, or leaving higher education.

3. This report uses the same methodology, but defines a wider set of year one outcomes that enables identification of whether a student stays in the same subject area and what their year of study is in the next academic year. This makes it possible to identify, for example, what proportion of students who continue at the same institution are retaking their first year.

Key points

4. The most common outcome for students is to continue into year two in the same subject at the same institution. More than 80 per cent of students do this each year, but this means that approximately one in five students do not continue straight on to the second year of their degree course.

5. The second most common outcome is to leave higher education (between 6.6 and 8.4 per cent of students each year), but almost as many students repeat year one in the same subject at the same institution as leave.

6. More students change subject each year than switch between universities. The least common outcome is to switch university, stay in the same subject area and enter at a year beyond year one. This is the outcome that would most likely involve the transfer of academic credit.

7. The proportions of students with each outcome are fairly stable over the time period. However, the rates at which students leave higher education, repeat year one in the same subject at the same institution and transfer into year one at a different institution are all lowest for students entering in 2011-12, which suggests that the change in undergraduate funding regime had a transitional effect on student behaviour and choices.

Action required

8. This document is for information only.

Date: 25 October 2017

Ref: 2017/27

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Student opportunity, Planning

Enquiries should be directed to:

Rebecca Finlayson, tel 0117 9317407, email r.finlayson@hefce.ac.uk, or Quantitative Analysis for Policy Team, email qapt@hefce.ac.uk