Fewer first years consider dropping out

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Monday, 29 Nov 2010


For immediate release: Monday 29 November 2010

Fewer first-year university students are considering dropping out of their course, new research from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) shows.

Results from the largest survey of current university students ever undertaken in Australia reveal the number of students seriously thinking about abandoning their studies has declined from 35 per cent in 2008 and 30 per cent in 2009 to 27 per cent in 2010. 

The 2010 Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) involved around 55 000 students from 55 Australian tertiary institutions. ACER conducted the survey in August and today released a snapshot of responses received from first-year students.

ACER’s Director of Higher Education Research, Associate Professor Hamish Coates, said the decline is positive but there are still high numbers of students considering not completing their course. Data links this to a low emphasis on student support.

“Students are telling us that contact with teaching staff is low and their use of support services is low, which partly helps explain the drop out intentions,” Dr Coates said.

The findings reveal that students consider dropping out more for personal than financial or institutional reasons.

Boredom was the most commonly reported reason for leaving, chosen by 23 per cent of these students.  Most people reported leaving for personal or social rather than practical reasons – change of direction (19 per cent), study-life balance (18 per cent), workload difficulty (17 per cent), or health or stress (16 per cent).

Fewer first-years reported leaving for financial reasons (14 per cent), while even fewer nominated institutional factors (7 per cent) such as reputation, quality and support.

However, for international students, quality concerns, access to other opportunities, financial problems and difficulty paying fees were stand-out reasons for wanting to drop out.

“Despite evidence that students who use university support services are far less likely to report dropping out, just over a third reported that they have never used such services”, Dr Coates said. “Contact with teaching staff and using support services is one of the most important things people can do to succeed in higher education.”

These are the second main series of results to be released from the 2010 administration of the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE). 55 institutions have received customised reports, with research briefings to be released in 2011.