Higher education

Universities told to advertise drop-out rates

Universities have been asked to advertise drop-out and employment rates so, in the minister's words, applicants avoid 'dead end' courses

Universities have been asked to advertise drop-out and employment rates so, in the minister's words, applicants avoid 'dead end' courses

Universities and higher education providers are being told by ministers to advertise subject drop-out and employment rates to stop students ending up “stuck on dead-end” courses. 

Government said the plans aim to give students “genuine choice” about where to study and will “clearly identify courses with high drop-out rates and poor graduate outcomes”.

However, it will only be voluntary, non-statutory guidance. If take-up is “insufficient”, ministers may consider whether to make it mandatory. 

All providers registered on the Office for Students register will be asked to comply. However, only full-time, first degree courses are in scope. It does not apply to foundation degrees, post-graduate degrees or degree level apprenticeship standards. 

Critics say it risks “stigmatising” universities trying to help those who “aren’t academic superstars”. 

A study by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that 59 per cent of students said they’d make the same choice of university and course again. This was 64 per cent in 2019, pre-pandemic.

Michelle Donelan, higher education minister, said the guidance will “ensure that just as every advert for a loan or credit card must include basic information like the APR, every university advert should include comparable data on drop-out rates and the progression rate of students into graduate jobs or further study”. 

“Making such a significant investment in your time, money and future is not made any easier by bold university advertising, which often promises students a high-quality experience even when the statistics suggest they will be stuck on a dead-end course.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, said the matter is more complex than “dead-end courses” and that the move risks “stigmatising universities and courses which are actually trying to do the right thing for those who aren’t academic superstars”. 

“Clearly, they have to make sure that they are putting the appropriate support in place for these young people to help reduce drop-out rates and ensure good outcomes. But this is a much harder job than it is with very confident and able young people.” 

Bill Watkin, chief executive at the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said HE’s value “extends beyond its role in contributing to the employment market and future careers”. 

The guidance says that while the data is already publicly available, it generally “requires some inside knowledge and a certain amount of persistence” to access it. 

So the government wants universities to position the data “prominently” on all “institutional and subject-specific advertising”.

They suggest the font size should be the same as the main body of text, but it could be smaller than the headline. 

It should apply to all new advertising, including on web pages, social media, TV and radio and influencers. 

Nick Hillman, HEPI director, said “the decision will leave many vice-chancellors wondering whether their institutions are as autonomous as they thought they were”. 

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