The rate of students dropping out from UK universities has fallen slightly, figures show.

Overall, 6.7% of UK full-time students taking their first degree under the age of 21 did not continue past their first year of the course in 2018-19.

This figure is a drop of 0.1 percentage points compared to 2017-18.

But the official data, published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, shows the drop-out rates vary significantly by institutions.

At some universities, more than a fifth of young UK full-time students did not continue into the 2019-20 academic year.

The Department for Education (DfE) has called the high drop-out rates at individual institutions “unacceptable”.

At the University of Suffolk, 23.8% of students under the age of 21 dropped out before their second year, while at the University of Bedfordshire the figure was 20.9%.

Meanwhile, the University of Cambridge had a drop-out rate of 0.8% and the rate at the University of Oxford was 1.2% in 2018-19.

University students not continuing with courses beyond first year
(PA Graphics)

The statistics also reveal the proportion of mature students – those aged over 21 – taking their first degree who dropped out fell slightly on the previous year from 13.6% to 13.5% in 2018-19.

Overall, 78.9% of 2018-19 entrants are projected to complete the degree they started, with 11.1% expected to leave higher education with no award.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said: “These figures – which largely precede any impact of the pandemic – show that continuation rates for students at English universities and colleges generally remain high.

“As we have seen in previous years, there is variation in performance across the sector.

“Universities and colleges should continue to ensure they recruit students with the ability to succeed.

“And courses and support systems should be designed to give every student the best chance of gaining a qualification that has expanded their knowledge and boosted their career prospects.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “It is unacceptable that at some universities more than 20% of students drop out before their second year.

“One of the Education Secretary’s key priorities for the Office for Students is to ensure students can succeed on high-quality courses which lead to good graduate employment, taking robust regulatory action where needed.”