MORE than 17 per cent of University of Ballarat (now Federation University) students drop out of their courses in the first year.
According to Education Department figures in a metropolitan newspaper article, 17.3 per cent of University of Ballarat students abandon their university dreams in their first year of study.
The university census date is today, when students can drop out without having to pay fees.
Almost one in five students leave their studies nationwide by the end of first year.
Up to 13,000 undergraduates end up changing courses or institutions, the latest Department of Education figures show, but more than 25,000 first-year students simply abandon their university dreams. They blame unhappiness with the subjects they chose, financial hardship, failing courses and class sizes.
In Victoria, the University of Melbourne boasts the lowest attrition rate of 5 per cent, meaning just one in 20 students drops out in their first year.
Acting vice-chancellor Professor Pip Pattison puts this success down to three things.
“One, we offer courses that are attractive to great students.
“Two, we’re very clear about the requirements to undertake courses and have a rigorous set of prerequisites compared with other universities.
“And three, we have excellent policies around ensuring that we get early indicators of students going off track, and strong processes for talking to students and getting them back on track.”
However, people should not rush to judge universities with relatively high attrition rates, such as Victoria University (15 per cent) and the University of Ballarat (17 per cent).
Dr Daniel Edwards, senior researcher at the Australian Council for Educational Research, points out that both institutions take on far more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In the case of the University of Ballarat (now Federation University), the percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds is double that of the University of Melbourne. “Within that context, those are laudable figures,” Dr Edwards said.
“And it supports the philosophical position that they have – trying to further the life chances of young people who come from backgrounds that don’t traditionally have any experience with higher education.”
Professor Marcia Devlin, deputy vice-chancellor at Federation University, said it had a range of mentoring and retention programs, “and we pride ourselves on our high number of low socio-economic and ‘first generation’ students”.
Given the recent influx of students starting higher education in Australia – from 177,543 in 2001 to 248,509 in 2012 – the percentage remaining in study is actually remarkable, with the dropout rate barely changing across the country in more than a decade.
“Attrition is not a clear proxy for quality, but it is the main measure we have at our fingertips right now, and the figures have remained stable,” Dr Edwards said. ‘’We’re not losing huge numbers in their first year, which is the most important stepping stone.”
One should also bear in mind that many students leave university for reasons other than teacher quality, support programs or class sizes, but to travel or start earning.