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Media coverage of university attrition rates has been ‘unnecessarily alarmist’ and claims of a ‘crisis’ are not borne out by the facts, a new Government-commissioned discussion paper has found. 

The paper by the Higher Education Standards Panel rejects suggestions that attrition rates are due to poor admission standards or students entering on low Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks. 

“Common reasons cited for withdrawal are personal, including physical or mental health issues, financial pressures and other reasons often beyond institutional control,” the paper notes.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said the paper was further evidence that claims about university attrition rates had been overblown. 

“After reviewing the evidence, it concludes yet again that students with the highest attrition rates are those most likely to be juggling university with jobs or caring for their families. That’s particularly true for students who are mature age, part-time or studying online,” Ms Robinson said. 

“Universities are always looking at how best to support students to stay on and complete a degree – and we will work with the panel to explore how we can be even more effective,” she said. 

“But it’s also important to note that the factors that lead most students to consider leaving their studies are often beyond the control of a university. This highlights the problem with attempting to tie funding to metrics like attrition rates. You’d potentially penalise the universities that serve students who have the greatest challenges to complete a degree.”

The paper notes that the overall attrition rate of 15 per cent for Australian universities is the same as it was in 2005.

“That is a real accomplishment. Since the uncapping of student places, we have seen a huge increase in the number of university students, and rapid growth in the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but the attrition rate is at the same level it was a decade ago,” Ms Robinson said. 

The discussion paper suggests collecting better data to understand in more detail the factors driving attrition. 

“There’s strong merit in that idea and it’s one we have proposed. It’s by understanding even more about the students most at risk of attrition that we will continue to build on a very strong track record here in Australia.”

Education Minister Simon Birmingham asked the panel late last year to examine factors driving completion and attrition rates in late 2016. 

Its final report on attrition will be sent to Government later this year.

Universities Australia Media Contacts

Misha Schubert
02 6285 8133
Mobile: 0421 612 351

Bella Counihan
Ph: 02 6285 8123
Mobile: 0419 212 219 

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