The F word is not appropriate for...

4th September 1998 at 01:00
To brand as a "flunkie" ("Forgotten flunkies", TES, August 21) everyone who prematurely leaves university is ridiculous. The figures you published are partial, misleading and damaging both to universities and students.

For most of us "to flunk" is a derogatory term for failing an examination.

The majority of people who leave university before their course is completed don't leave for this reason at all. They may change university, move abroad, have a serious illness or financial difficulties, or leave for other personal reasons.

More than half of them return to higher education within 12 months to take up their studies again. Yet more return later.

A glance at the table you published demonstrates the distortion. If more than 30 per cent of students left before completing their courses, universities would be experiencing serious difficulties.

Universities are concerned when any student has to leave their course and they have good counselling and welfare services in place to help.

They take care to ensure that students do not make "rash decisions" during clearing, providing open days, advice lines and other forms of help.

We must get away from the use of this ugly term "flunk" if we are going to persuade more people to take up lifelong learning. This will inevitably involve taking short bites of higher education at different times of life.

Your crude figures are completely misleading. I expect the analysis that is currently being carried out at the Higher Education Funding Council for England to paint a quite different picture.

Diana Warwick. Chief executive. Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom, Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London WC1

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