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Access & Retention

UPP Foundation and SMF to investigate continuation rates in higher education in London

27th February 2017 by Richard Brabner

The Social Market Foundation think-tank is beginning a new research project which will investigate the reasons why London’s higher education (HE) institutions have lower retention rates when compared with the rest of the country.

While figures suggest an improvement in the overall proportion of first degree entrants who choose to remain in HE after one year – falling towards 5% in the best performing regions – within London this remains stubbornly close to double this level. Figures indicate that around a quarter of all students who drop out of English universities after one year are doing so from institutions based in the capital. While these are ‘raw’ numbers, non-continuation rates at London institutions remain higher even after adjusting for age, entry qualifications and subject.

Working in partnership with the UPP Foundation, the SMF will explore why London is still seemingly somewhat behind with retention; how institutions elsewhere in the country have been able to significantly improve retention; and how, with these insights, institutions based in the capital might turn around their performance too.

Nigel Keohane, Director of research at the SMF said:

“The UPP Foundation rightly sees the task of tackling non-continuation as an important element to improving social mobility through HE. Non-continuation represents a missed opportunity for any student, but it poses a greater risk for those from poorer backgrounds.”

The SMF project will assess:

  • whether campus universities are better at fostering a sense of belonging
  • whether the significantly higher cost of living in London is a contributing factor to poorer retention
  • whether the high dropout rates of students from ethnic minority backgrounds, which London universities admit in higher numbers, may be a factor, and
  • recommendations to universities and government on ways to tackle non-continuation

The project will feature two roundtable discussions: one with institutions who have made significant progress in improving retention, and a second with London universities to present the results of the research and to hear from them first hand why improving retention is proving so difficult.

Richard Brabner, Head of the UPP Foundation, said:

“It is part of the UPP Foundation’s aims to support innovative projects that enhance young people’s social capital. We believe this is a social mobility issue and are concerned by the figures suggesting that around a quarter of all the students who drop out of English universities after one year do so from institutions based in the capital.

“We expect that, as well as being relevant to London institutions, these lessons around improving the student experience, responding to the different backgrounds of students and helping them to manage financial pressures will have resonance for many other institutions too.”


Image source: “Campus Fall 2013 58” by COD Newsroom is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Richard Brabner

Richard Brabner is the Director of UPP Foundation

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