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University non-completion

Nearly a quarter of a million students will start a bachelor degree in Australia in 2018, but more than 50,000 of them will leave university without getting a degree according to the 2018 Grattan Institute report “Dropping out: the benefits and costs of trying university.”

Dropping out is not always a bad outcome. In fact, enrolling can help students decide what they want to do.  Yet for a significant minority, an incomplete degree leaves them with debt and regret. Nearly two-thirds believe they would have been better off if they had finished. These students do not get value for their time and money.

Much of the risk of dropping out is foreseeable.  Many factors can affect whether students complete their degrees. But some factors are so significant that school advisers, university staff, and parents should alert prospective students to the risks in simple and general terms.

  • Part-time students are the most likely to drop out.
  • Students with ATARs below 60 are twice as likely to drop out of university than otherwise similar students with ATARs above 90.
  • Overall, off-campus students have low rates of completion.
  • Completion rates vary by the discipline studied
  • Students from remote or very remote areas face an increased risk, however only small numbers of students come from remote areas.
  • Students who report a disability have a non-completion risk higher than other students

Characteristics of student who complete their studies:

  • Students speaking an East Asian language such as Chinese at home; their completion prospects are better than those of students who speak English at home
  • Women are more likely to a complete their university course than men
  • Students who begin their course at age 18 or younger have the lowest non-completion risk

University is now the default post-school activity for many young people. In their late-teenage years, two-thirds of young people plan to go to university. These high aspirations are out of kilter with what is required to successfully complete a degree and the labour market’s need for people with university qualifications.

Young people should be encouraged to think first about whether university or vocational education would best suit them.