New official data shows student attrition rates fell by more than half a percentage point from 14.97 per cent in 2015 to 14.32 per cent in 2016.
That’s lower than in 2005 before Australia began to remove caps on student places to widen access to university.
And Indigenous student enrolments grew by 8.3 per cent from 2016 to 2017 – with the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at universities more than doubling since 2008.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said keeping attrition in check while expanding access to more people from disadvantaged backgrounds was a big achievement.
“Since 2008, the uncapped system of university places opened the doors of opportunity to nearly a quarter of a million more Australians,” Ms Jackson said.
“Many of them are from Indigenous, regional and remote areas and disadvantaged backgrounds.”
“Over this decade, 60,000 more people from poorer backgrounds got a university education. The number of regional and rural students grew by 50 per cent, and the number of Indigenous students rose by 105 per cent. Students with a disability are up by 123 per cent.”
“These are hard won gains that open the doors of opportunity to so many talented Australians.”
Ms Jackson said the top five reasons why students withdrew from study at university were beyond the control of students and their universities.
“When students do decide to leave university, it usually comes down to personal circumstances,” she said.
“Work, caring responsibilities, financial hardship, illness — these all play a major role in why a student may feel they have no choice but to withdraw from their studies.
“But universities also want students to know they are welcome back if they want to give uni study another go in coming years.”
The new figures confirm university completion rates – the number of students finishing their university studies within nine years of starting – were stable; and have been since 2005.
“We know that programs like HEPPP play a major role in encouraging applications from students from disadvantaged backgrounds and supporting them to stay on at uni and succeed,” she said.