John Field, director of the university's division of academic innovation and continuing education, has issued an alert about the drop in staying-on rates from 77.9 per cent in 2000 to 76.1 per cent in 2004, revealed this week in the Scottish Executive's annual pupil census statistics. Professor Field said the situation was of concern in relation to boys - only 39.1 per cent stayed on to S5 last year compared to 80 per cent of girls. This had a knock-on effect on higher education where there was a 12 per cent gap in participation rates between males and females.
"This is something we seem to be drifting into without any thought or debate," he said Professor Field added that there was not yet any cause for panic since most youngsters were staying on at school and the change was relatively small.
The most obvious explanation was that it was easier for youngsters to find jobs when unemployment was low.
However, he warned against complacency. "First, too many young people end up in jobs that do not involve any training. Second, our staying-on rate is much lower than in most European countries, and there is a risk that we are creating a low skill economy on the basis of a low wage labour supply. Both of these are a real threat in the longer term".
A spokeswoman for the Executive said that, although staying-on rate figures fluctuated from year to year, there was no evidence of a really strong trend. But the Executive would keep an eye on the situation.