Warnings of Sanctions for Universities with High Drop-Out Rates

One of our writers discusses the possible sanctions placed on universities.

Rhys James
27th October 2022
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Office for Students recently published its tests of “low quality” subjects that could see English universities facing large fines, where fewer than 60% of graduates in a university's subject area find work, set up their own business or go on to further study.

Since the 3rd October, new thresholds are in place, setting minimum expectations for the proportion of students on higher education courses. These thresholds were decided following an “extensive consultation process” in which the voices of students and their representatives, universities and colleges were heard. Different thresholds have been set for different courses, and The Office for Students published the thresholds as:

  • 80 percent of students to continue their studies
  • 75 percent of students to complete their course
  • 60 percent of students go on to further study, professional work, or other positive outcomes, within 15 months of graduating.

The Telegraph reported that 33 universities with almost 30,000 students are at risk of breaching The Office for Students new thresholds, and over 11,000 at 62 universities and colleges do not currently meet the required minimum proportion of students securing jobs within 15 months after graduating. 

Susan Lapworth, the chief executive of The Office for Students since September of this year, said that “too many students” from disadvantaged backgrounds are recruited onto university degrees which don’t improve their chances in life. Lapworth went on to say that “Most higher education students in England are on courses with outcomes above our thresholds, often significantly so…But today’s decision provides a clear incentive for universities and colleges to take credible action to improve the outcomes of courses which may be cause for concern.”

In response to the newly imposed sanctions, University leaders have argued that rates of graduate employment are not solely dependent on Universities but can be affected by economic forces beyond their control, and start-out careers in subjects such as creative arts are difficult to compare with subjects that have conventional career paths.

University leaders have argued that rates of graduate employment are not solely dependent on Universities but can be affected by economic forces beyond their control

A spokesperson for the Universities UK group, who work with universities, the government and stakeholders to continue improving the UK's world-leading higher education sector, said that the “vast majority” of graduates enjoy their student experience “However, the data is not perfect and can only ever capture aspects of student success. ‘Good’ outcomes need to be considered in the context of student aspirations”.

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