Steven Kerr, now 23, dropped out of Aberdeen University in 1995 towards the end of the second year of his psychology degree "It was expected that I would take a degree and I never questioned it," he says. "I hadn't figured what I would do with it, but I didn't want to just hang around Linlithgow looking for a job."
Steven did well academically in his first year and, with a grant and some help from his parents, he managed to stay out of debt. In his second year, however, it got harder.
"I got a job because I needed the money. Unfortunately, the hours meant I didn't get to bed till 4am two or three nights a week. I was overtired and kept missing classes. I couldn't give up the job because I needed the money, so I gave up my course." Ironically, the job was working on the door at events in the students union. "The university was sympathetic, but there wasn't a lot they could do.
"Now I'm looking for a full-time job, but I've been doing lots of part-time work. I've considered going back, but I'd have to be in a financial position to put myself through it. Maybe I wouldn't do the same course, and now I would have to pay my own tuition."
Steven concedes that "it might have helped to be better informed. It might have been different somewhere else. I don't know."
Tania Wood, now 22, dropped out of Sussex University in May 1995 at the start of the third term of her English and theatre studies degree Privately educated in London, Tania's problem was not debt. "We all decided maybe my parents had given me a bit too much money," she says. Instead, she blames a combination of things: "I was living in nasty accommodation which I was too timid to do anything about. I wanted to be on campus with all my friends. I fell in love, and then that went wrong. Also, I was over-enjoying the night-life, if you know what I mean, and not really enjoying my course. There wasn't enough pressure.
"I became more unhappy and did less well at my work. No one at the university seemed to take any notice, so one morning I just packed my bags and left. I'm sure if I'd gone to them earlier, they would have tried to help, but I knew I just hadn't chosen the right university. Brighton's too full of distractions. "
Tania took a year out teaching English in the Galapagos, before returning to study English at Nottingham where she is about to start her final year. "I'm enjoying it and the course is a lot more academically rigorous. I'm doing lots of extra-curricular things, taking a play up to Edinburgh and on for a 2:1 hopefully. So it's all worked out perfectly."
Institution... Per cent
Aberystwyth 9 University of Bath 30 University of Bradford 5 University of Brighton 39 University of Bristol 5 Buckinghamshire Chilterns 33
University of Cambridge 11 Cardiff 24 Cheltenham Gloucester CHE 23 City University 28 Coventry University 24
University of Derby 30 University of Essex 16 University of Exeter 17 University of Glamorgan 17 Goldsmiths College 27
Imperial College 23 Keele University 10 University of Kent 8 Lancaster University 19 University of Leeds 15 University of Liverpool 10 Liverpool John Moores 26
London Institute 18 Loughborough University 5 LSE 3
University of Manchester 14 Manchester Metropolitan 21 Middlesex University 22 Institution Per cent Nene 34
University of Newcastle 31 University of Northumbria 14 University of Nottingham 17 Nottingham Trent University 11 University of Oxford 3 University of Plymouth 21 University of Portsmouth 34 Queen Mary Westfield College 25 Queen's University, Belfast 16 University of Reading 12 Royal Holloway 13
University of Sheffield 12 South Bank University 36 University of Southampton 5 Southampton Institute 21 Staffordshire University 34 University of Sunderland 26 University of Sussex 18 Swansea 6
University of Teesside 24 University of East Anglia 9 University of Ulster 6 UMIST 21
University College, London 18 University of Warwick 14 University of Wolverhampton 26 University of York 16 UK Average 19
The flunk rate for each institution is calculated by 'counting them in and counting them out'; any difference represents those who don't make it because they either drop out or fail.
The Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA) provides the 'Push Guide' with raw data and advises on its use. We worked with two sets of figures for the 1999 edition. The first was the number of first-year undergraduates entering each institution in 1994, with their expected length of study as measured in December 1994 (therefore excluding those who dropped out in their first term or started their course later). The second set of figures was the number of first-degree qualifiers at each institution completing in 1997 with their expected length of study which, crucially, is measured according to how long they were supposed to study at the start of their course, not the period they actually spent.
The flunk rate is the percentage difference between the number of students who started three-year courses in 1994 and the number graduating in 1997. The figures assume that the number of students who drop back a year within the same institution is constant from year to year; however, students switching course (but not year) aren't counted as flunking unless they also switch institution.
Because comparative raw data is not available for 1993 entry, only students on three-year courses could be counted (hence the exclusion of Scottish universities). Other figures were excluded from the study for the following reasons:
* The proportion of students whose expected length of study was given as "unknown" was more than 1 per cent of the number of students on three-year courses.
* The sample size was fewer than 500 students starting in 1994.
* Institutional returns to HESA were unreliable (HESA started work in 1994 and changed calculation methods leading some institutions to make errors); * The institution had merged or demerged with another between 1994 and 1997.