Beyond Access to HE: Widening Access Initiatives and Student Retention in Scotland

This research report analyses non-continuation rates in higher education (HE) among Scottish young people from different social backgrounds and with protected characteristics (i.e. gender, ethnicity and disability). In relation to nation-wide initiatives on widening access, this study provides new evidence on non-continuation rates of students who attended schools involved in the SFC-funded Schools for Higher Education Programme (SHEP) and students articulating from Colleges to HE institutions.

Key findings

  • The risk of students dropping out from HE is considerably higher during the 1st year of undergraduate studies than in subsequent years.
  • Students from SHEP schools do not appear to be more at risk of dropping out than the other students participating in HE.
  • Dropout rates are generally higher among students with less advantaged social backgrounds. However, a good part of the social gap in the probability of dropping out is explained by their lower attainment at the time of entry into HE.
  • Young men are more likely to drop out than young women. This gender gap holds after controlling for individual and area characteristics, prior school attainment, HEI type and field of study.
  • Disabled students are not more likely to drop out than non-disabled students. However, due to data limitations, the study could not distinguish between different types of disabilities, thus this result may hide within-group differences.
  •  Articulating students were found to be significantly more likely than other students to drop out from HE before completing their degree studies.
  •  Ancient universities have the lowest rate of student non-continuation. They are followed by the old Universities and the new universities.
  • Students from more deprived areas are significantly more likely to drop out from ancient and old universities than students from less deprived areas. These differences are partly explained by lower attainment of more disadvantaged students who enter HE.
  • Student non-continuation rates are slightly higher in STEM subjects and business and mass communication than in social studies and humanities and art.
  • 'Academic reasons' is reported to be the main reason for non-continuation for about 30% of the students who dropped out from Scottish universities. These percentages are significantly higher for male, students from ethnic minority groups and low SES students.

Read the full report. 

This project was funded by the Scottish Funding Council. 

Monday, May 16, 2016
Cristina Iannelli
Gitit Kadar-Satat
Linda Croxford
Publication Type: 
Research Briefing

Research Strand: