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Student Wastage: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 2969, tabled on 18 May 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) completion and (b) drop out rates in universities in the last 12 months.

Answered on

26 May 2021

Official Statistics on student retention[1] are published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) as part of the UK Performance Indicators: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/performance-indicators/non-continuation.

The latest statistics published by HESA refer to students entering higher education (HE) in the 2018/19 academic year and whether they continued in the following academic year (2019/20). Any impacts from the COVID-19 outbreak on students continuing their studies will not be apparent until early next year, when HESA will publish figures for 2019/20 students who entered HE in the 2019/20 academic year and whether they are continuing in the 2020/21 academic year.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, ad-hoc statistics have been published by the Student Loans Company (SLC) on withdrawal notifications received from HE providers. These statistics, which give a more timely indication of retention in HE, are available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/early-in-year-student-withdrawal-notifications-academic-year-201819-to-202021-up-to-21022021. These are in-year statistics on the number of notifications of student withdrawals provided to the SLC by HE providers for the academic years 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21. They cover withdrawals from 1 August until 21 February for each academic year. They show that the SLC has not seen an increase in student withdrawal notifications for the purposes of student finance this academic year, compared to the previous 2 years.

Whilst withdrawal notifications are lower than previous years, caution should be applied when drawing conclusions, as these are early-in-year figures based on information provided to the SLC from HE providers.

We have set up a Higher Education Taskforce, involving representatives from across the government and the HE sector. The taskforce meets regularly to explore the challenges currently facing the sector as it continues to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. We have utilised the taskforce to discuss the work HE providers are doing to support students, and prevent students from leaving their course before completion.

[1] Covering both (a) projected completion rates based on the latest progression patterns at each provider (https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/performance-indicators/non-continuation/table-t5) and (b) non-continuation rates defined as students leaving their higher education studies and not continuing following their year of entry (https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/performance-indicators/non-continuation/table-t3).