Inter-university variations in undergraduate non-completion rates: A statistical analysis by subject of study

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Non-completion of higher education degree courses is a considerable problem, incurring costs on the taxpayer, higher education institutions and the students who fail to complete. Closer examination of the data reveals that non-completion rates in higher education vary substantially across institutions and by subject of degree. The purpose of this paper is to investigate, within each of 13 broad subject categories, the potential determinants of inter-university variations in non-completion rates. Published data are used to compute university non-completion rates over four time periods and to construct corresponding explanatory variables which could potentially be related to non-completion rates. The explanatory variables measure the characteristics (both academic and socioeconomic) of students recruited by universities and the characteristics of the institutions themselves. The significance of the relationship between the possible explanatory variables and non-completion rates within each given subject is assessed using both weighted leastsquares and weighted logit analysis. The conclusions drawn from the results of each technique are identical, and, therefore, for interpretation reasons, only the results of the weighted least-squares analysis are reported. As expected, the academic quality of student entrants is an important determinant of non-completion rates in the majority of subjects, although the magnitude of the effect varies according to subject. Variables reflecting the age and gender mix of university entrants are generally not significantly related to non-completion rates. The characteristics of institutions which are significantly related to non-completion rates in specific subjects include the staff student ratio and the length of the degree course.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-362
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Applied Statistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1997
Externally publishedYes


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