Blog - UK student retention performance overview

UK Student Retention Performance Overview

‘For too long we have been overly tolerant of the fact that some providers have significantly and materially higher drop-out rates than others with very similar intakes in terms of demographics and prior attainment.’
Success as a Knowledge Economy

The pressure is on for UK higher education institutions to make meaningful improvements in their student retention performance. As one of the metrics that will be used as a proxy for teaching excellence, retention figures have more influence than ever on institutions’ reputations and abilities to recruit international students. Recent news indicates that TEF may be used by the Home Office to identify ‘low quality’ universities where tougher rules around international recruitment may be imposed.

Under these circumstances, there is a lot riding on student retention performance. So, where does the UK stand as a sector?

Performance over time
Non-continuation rates for UK, first-degree entrants have been largely stable across the past decade. On the whole, retention has improved in this time. But, we did see a bit of an uptick in the most recent reported academic year to a 7.2% non-continuation rate, up from 7.1% in the previous year.














Performance by region
Looking at just the academic year 2013-2014, you see some variation in non-continuation by region, with Scotland encountering the highest student attrition rate.















Performance by student maturity
Mature students, those entering higher education when they’re 21 or older, are significantly more likely to discontinue than their younger peers. Universities serving a sizable population of mature students that are able to close this gap in performance will be well-positioned to achieve a meaningful improvement in their institutions’ retention. For more on mature students and considerations to support their success, check out our blog post on the new ‘traditional’ student.















Retention improvement is an uphill climp, but a better understanding of your students and risk-factors will give you momentum. To see a further breakdown on non-continuation trends, such as by course and student domicile, and learn tactics to support all students to completion, check out our eBook How to Achieve Your Student Retention Benchmark.



  1. HESA. UK Performance Indicators 2014/15: Non-continuation rates. 23 March 2016.
  2. HEFCE. Non-continuation rates: Trends and profiles. 13 January 2016.