In the last twenty-five years there has been a significant alteration in the student experience in the UK. In the early 1980s it was rare for students either to fail to take exams or produce assignments on time or for them to fail to complete the degree they had begun. Now a significant proportion of students who start a programme of study withdraw before completion and this ‘attrition’ has become a particular problem for some universities and for the higher education funding bodies. This article reports the results of a project that conducted qualitative, depth interviews not focussed so much on finding reasons for having left, but rather on the experience and biography of those facing problems and thus likely to consider leaving or being forced to leave. A particular focus of this approach was to investigate a different dimension of the issue: student motivation for studying.