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Dogged vets all stay the course

Teachers, if you want to be sure your pupils will go on to get a degree the best advice you can give them is to be a vet or a foodie.

The Royal Veterinary college and Birmingham college of food, tourism and creative studies are two of only three English higher education institutions where no students drop out.

Cambridge and Oxford may be the universities with the biggest worldwide reputations but even they have drop-out rates of 1 and 2.3 per cent respectively, according to a parliamentary answer from Bill Rammell, higher education minister.

But what about the places to avoid? The recently-created Bolton university (formerly Bolton institute of higher education) is "one of Britain's fastest-growing universities" says its website. But with a staggering 31.9 per cent expected drop-out rate for students who began their courses in 2002-3, it could be argued that the university is losing students almost as quickly as it is gaining them.

A further seven universities, Derby, Sunderland, East London, London South Bank, Middlesex, Thames Valley and Greenwich, are expected to lose at least a quarter of their full-time first degree students before they graduate.

The national "non-completion rate" (as the drop-out rate is properly known) is 13.9 per cent.

Alan Vincent, general secretary of the Association for Careers Education and Guidance, warned teachers to "beware of facile assumptions". "I am concerned that data like this could be used to knock the less prestigious universities. Career choices should be based on the content of the courses rather than crude facts about retention," he said.

Alan Smithers of Buckingham university's Centre for Education and Employment Research said the figures showed students were being accepted who are not clever or interested enough to complete degrees.

He said: "Advice to pupils must be to think carefully about what they can do and like doing. They shouldn't just go to university because they are able to."

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