Government back Uni drop-out table

Felicity Davies -News Reporter 6 November 2009

A new government policy has been announced this week which will make all universities reveal the numbers of students who drop out of their university places.

This comes as part of a move towards improving consumer rights for students. Universities will be asked to provide information on the numbers of students who drop out, graduate earnings and the amount of contact time students have with their tutors.

This information will be collected and provided to prospective applicants as another means of choosing between universities and courses.

The policy is an implementation of Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson’s idea that students should be treated as consumers. It is aimed at making universities prioritise important aspects of education, such as the number of teaching hours, and to attempt to force universities to improve the calibre of their courses.

The aim, according to the government, is to give students better value for money.

Sam Wakeford, the CUSU Education Officer told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that while “prospective applicants should certainly have access to a range of detailed and transparent information when they are making decisions about their future, it is essential that this information is understood in context, and combined with appropriate advice and guidance.”

He went on to express concerns about the way that this may lead to a “rating” of universities.

“In terms of educational benefit, can you really compare an hour in supervision with an hour spent in a lecture?

“Do graduate earnings figures demonstrate educational success, or are they more suggestive of the aspirations and career choices of a university’s intake? And as for drop-out rates, are these a proxy measure of a university’s academic quality?

 “Or are they indicators of, for example, its pastoral care provision, the financial support it makes available or even the proportion of students it has with caring responsibilities?”

However, Dr Geoff Parks, Admissions Tutor at Cambridge University, assured TCS “I think these fears are unfounded.

Of these indicators only contact time is not already reported by universities.”

The aim of the move is to make students demand more for their money, giving them more information about what their money will provide them at different institutions.

This may have a negative effect on the number of applications to certain universities. However, Dr Parks told TCS that “Cambridge will rate highly on the proposed measures, so they are unlikely to have a negative impact on recruitment.”

He went onto say that “they certainly won’t portray the full picture, but I assume they will be presented alongside other relevant indicators like outcomes from the National Student Satisfaction Survey, QAA reports etc.”

Felicity Davies -News Reporter