New report highlights drop-out levels

By Ciara Anderson

A new report issued by the HEA outlines a direct correlation between Leaving Certificate scores and students continuing third-level education.

The findings show that a student’s prior education attainments are the main influence on whether the student remains enrolled in their course. Students who achieve points in the 350-400 range have the highest drop-out rate, whilst those with the highest Leaving Certificate points are most likely to progress to second year.

Students in profession courses such as Medicine and Law were the least likely to drop out, with just two of every 100 dropping out of Medicine.

The connection between Leaving Certificate results and continued study is most pronounced between Mathematics scores and scientific or technical courses. Three out of every five students who received a D1 in Higher Level Maths dropped out after first year. One in four students would drop out after first year if they did not receive a pass in Higher Level English.

Points in specific subjects are the best indicators of course progression. The study found that points achieved in Maths are the strongest indicator of third level progression. Those who achieve 60 percent and above are most likely to continue their studies. High achievement in English was another significant indicator.

Overall presence at courses offered by both institutes of technology and universities was studied, and it emerged that Irish universities have a drop out rate of nine percent. Female students were seen to be marginally more likely to progress than males, and students from families of professionals were twice as likely to graduate as those students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

There was also a clear difference in drop-out rates across the different kinds of third-level education. While just under one in ten enrollees dropped out of Level 8 courses, a quarter of students studying Higher Certificate and Ordinary Degree courses at institutes of technology drop out.

Of all students in ITs, one in five left before second year. This compares to the UK dropout rate of 7.4 percent in 2007 and in the US, where one in three students fails to obtain a degree.

Computer science had the highest non-attendance rate at 29 percent. The report comments: “The prior attainment in Mathematics of new entrants to Computer Science is low considering that similar mental skills are required across both disciplines”.

In response to this statistic, the HEA said, “There is a serious mismatch between the skills required to successfully undertake a higher education course in science and technology with the competencies of students enrolling on such courses.”

The Union of Students in Ireland has reacted to these statistics by renewing emphasis on student maintenance grants and the effect of State cuts on the ability of students’ to continue in third-level education.

The USI comments, “High drop-out rates in third-level education are inherently reflective of an inefficient system, but compounding this issue is the millions that are spent on students who will never graduate. These statistics also serve as a threat to colleges that are facing penalties of reduced funding if they do not meet specified targets”.

Now the country waits for the finding of the Hunt Report chaired by economist Dr Colin Hunt. So far, the group has stated that increased funding is necessary as well as the possible introduction of third-level fees.