University Life

/ 1 year ago /

 Article by Andrew Frobisher

Degree Dropouts

Which universities have the highest & lowest dropout rates & how does leaving your course affect employment opportunities?

Earning a degree can be an excellent way of opening up doors to a wider range of career opportunities, with many jobs now making it a qualification a requirement for candidates. However, university isn’t for everyone, and for some, it may not turn out to be the right decision. 

On average, 6 in every 100 (6.3%) students in the UK drop out of university.

But, which UK universities have the highest and lowest dropout rates? Our insights team studied the data from over 140 of the country’s higher education institutions to find out. 


The UK universities with the lowest dropout rates

Oxbridge sees the lowest dropout rates.

Our research shows that Oxbridge is the best at retaining students, with the University of Cambridge losing just 1% and the University of Oxford losing 1.2% as dropouts. As the two highest ranked universities in the country, it makes sense that students are less likely to leave their studies before graduating.

When looking at the top 10 universities with the lowest dropout rates, most can be found in the top 20 on the Complete University Guide’s league table, with just two that rank outside of this – St George’s, University of London (ranked 47), and the University of Sheffield (ranked 33).

The 10 universities with the lowest dropout rates

RankHE provider2020 University RankingTotal full-time first degree young entrantsNumber no longer in HEPercent no longer in HE (%)
1The University of Cambridge12,505251
2The University of Oxford22,575301.2
3Royal College of Music26501.5
4Courtauld Institute of Art
5The University of Bath92,575451.7
5Royal Academy of Music46001.7
6The University of Bristol164,205801.9
6University of Durham63,290601.9
6The University of Exeter114,155801.9
6The Royal Veterinary College-26051.9
6St George's, University of London47485101.9
7Glasgow School of Art1024052.1
7The University of St Andrews31,135252.1
8London School of Economics and Political Science4715152.4
9The University of Birmingham135,0101252.5
10The University of Sheffield334,3951202.7


The UK universities with the highest dropout rates

1 in 5 students drop out from London Metropolitan University; the highest in the UK

We’ve found that the university with the highest dropout rate is London Metropolitan University; an institution which loses a staggering 18.6% of its students, a total of 180 out of 980 students who enrolled to study.

Reflecting the likes of Oxford and Cambridge, London Metropolitan University sits near the bottom of the league table at 126, just five places above the lowest-ranked institution.

Middlesex University is the only institution in the bottom 10 that ranks in the league table’s top 100, seeing a dropout percentage of 12.6% but a ranking of 89.

The UK universities with the highest dropout rates

RankHE provider2020 University RankingTotal full-time first degree young entrantsNumber no longer in HEPercent no longer in HE (%)
1London Metropolitan University12698018018.6
2The University of Bolton12881512515.4
3University of Bedfordshire1221,47022515.2
4University of the Highlands and Islands-3154513.6
5University of Suffolk1294856513.6
6SRUC (Scotland's Rural College)-1251512.9
7Middlesex University893,44543512.6
8Plymouth College of Art-3304012.5
9The University of Wolverhampton1242,60031512.2
10University of Abertay Dundee1036407512.1


The 10 year differences in dropout rates

Across the UK dropout rates have decreased by 1.1% since 2008

Between the 2007/08 academic year and 2017/18, some universities have seen huge differences, with a number of institutions decreasing their dropout rate, while others have seen it increase.

While the University of the Highlands and Islands has seen its dropout rate decrease by 19.1%, the University of Abertay Dundee has actually seen this increase by 7%. 

The combined figures across all universities, however, have shown a decrease over the last decade, with a dropout rate of 7.3% in the 2007/08 academic year, compared to 6.2% in 2017/18; a decline of 1.1%.

RankHE providerTotal full-time first degree young entrantsNumber no longer in HEPercent no longer in HE (%)Total full-time first degree young entrantsNumber no longer in HEPercent no longer in HE (%)Difference in %
1UHI Millennium Institute1254033.13154514-19.1
2Roehampton University1,62524014.71,9751407-7.7
3Edinburgh Napier University1,115180161,8201558.4-7.6
4Edge Hill University1,34516512.32,7101756.4-5.9
5Royal Northern College of Music130108.610552.9-5.7
6Royal College of Music55576501.5-5.5
7The University of Sunderland1,6052401,3451309.5-5.4
8The University of Westminster2,67530511.42,4501606.6-4.8
9Bangor University1,5601509.71,715855-4.7
10University of Ulster3,37541012.23,6302757.6-4.6


The 10 universities whose dropout percentage has decreased the least

RankHE providerTotal full-time first degree young entrantsNumber no longer in HEPercent no longer in HE (%)Total full-time first degree young entrantsNumber no longer in HEPercent no longer in HE (%Difference in %
1University of Abertay Dundee630305.16407512.17
2University of Bedfordshire10309591,47022515.26.2
3Central School of Speech and Drama11552.6170158.35.7
4London Metropolitan University1,68022013.198018018.65.5
5Stranmillis University College240103.82101584.2
6Buckinghamshire New University890657.11,395155113.9
7Goldsmiths College840606.91,47516010.73.8
8Leeds Metropolitan University42203357.94,81555011.53.6
9The University of Wales, Lampeter175106.88909010.13.3
10Guildhall School of Music and Drama7501.312554.12.8


Dropout rates by subject

Students studying Computer Science are most likely to drop out of from their degree studies

While we can see that some universities have higher dropout rates than others, the same is true for the subjects which students study. 

Our insights reveal that computer sciences is the subject which suffers from the highest dropout rate at 9.8%, with medicine, dentistry and veterinary science being the subject which sees the lowest at just 1.5%.

Percentage of entrants to full-time undergraduate courses who are no Longer in HE by subject

Subject of studyPercentage
Medicine, dentistry and veterinary Science1.5%
Physical sciences3.9%
Historical & philosophical studies4.2%
Mathematical sciences
Combined subjects5.2%
Social studies5.7%
Subjects allied to medicine5.8%
Agriculture & related subjects5.9%
Architecture, building & planning6.7%
Biological sciences6.7%
Creative arts & design7.2%
Engineering & technology7.2%
Mass communications & documentation7.2%
Business & administrative studies7.4%
Computer sciences9.8%
All subjects6.3%


When we look at the difference between 2007/08 and 2017/18, we see that every subject has seen a reduced dropout rate, although some have seen a far more dramatic decrease than others. 

Combined subjects have reduced their dropout rate by 23.8%, while physical sciences has dropped by 12.7%. 

Medicine, dentistry and veterinary science saw the smallest drop of 1.4%, followed by education which had a reduction of 3.4%. 

The difference in dropout rate by subject between 2007/08 - 2017/18

Subject of StudyPercentageSubject of StudyPercentageDifference in %
Combined subjects29%Combined subjects5.2%-23.8%
Physical sciences16.6%Physical sciences3.9%-12.7
Engineering & technology19.5%Engineering & technology7.2%-12.3%
Mathematical sciences16.3%Mathematical sciences5%-11.3%
Historical & philosophical studies15.4%Historical & philosophical studies4.2%-11.2%
Architecture, building, and planning17.7%Architecture, building, and planning6.7%-11%
Business & administrative studies18.4%Business & administrative studies7.4%-10.9%
Mass communications & documentation18.1%Mass communications & documentation7.2%-10.9%
Computer sciences20.6%Computer sciences9.8%-10.8%
Biological sciences16.7%Biological sciences6.7%-10%
Agriculture & related subjects14.3%Agriculture & related subjects5.9%-8.4%
Social studies13.5%Social studies5.7%-7.8%
Creative arts & design13.2%Creative arts & design7.2%-6%
Subjects allied to medicine11.4%Subjects allied to medicine5.8%-5.6%
Medicine, dentistry and veterinary science2.9%Medicine, dentistry and veterinary science1.5%-1.4%


While there are some universities that have actually increased their dropout rate, it seems that, overall, more students than ever are completing their studies in some capacity, with the top institutions in the country hanging onto their students most consistently.


If you drop out of your university course; what does this mean future employment opportunities?

Usmaan Qureshi, Client Success Manager from Debut advises:

“Leaving an undergraduate course before completion does rule out some opportunities, but opens up many others. 

When we speak with candidates, they are often really surprised at the companies with opportunities that are still available to them for Higher / Degree apprenticeships and graduate schemes.

The apprenticeship levy has changed the landscape. Not only is there a much bigger incentive for employers to bring on apprenticeships, but the data suggests they are often much better value. Retention rates are roughly double that for graduates and often the employee can contribute positively much earlier on.

Holly Stocker, Senior Partnership Manager from Debut continued:

Companies that are at the forefront of this revolution and a number of companies have a significant number of vacancies in these areas including large employers like Capgemini and EY.”



Using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, we were able to discover the rate at which students were dropping out of higher education in the period of 2007/08 and 2017/18. This data looked at students dropping out in these years that had entered full-time higher education in the previous year.

We used the university league tables from the Complete University Guide to get the rankings for each institution.

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