§ Chris Ruane
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what research his Department has commissioned into(a) student drop-out rates in the poorest communities and (b) the impact of benefit rules on students dropping out of access courses. 
§ Alan Johnson
We are not aware of research into student drop-out rates in the poorest communities. However, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has found that levels of non-completion are correlated only very weakly, if at all, with social class after taking into account prior academic record (see HEFCE submission to the Education and Employment Committee, Sixth Report, 13 March 2001, HC 124, page 121). Other research has reached similar conclusions. Examples includeRight Choice? A follow-up to 'Making the Right Choice'", Connor H., Pearson R., Pollard E., Tyers C., Willison R. Universities UK 2001 http://www.emplovment-studies.co.uk/pubs/report.php?id = 1427uukDropping Out: A study of early leavers from Higher Education" Rhys Davies and Peter Elias, DfES Research Report 386 "http://www.dfes.gov.uk/research/
Research shows that non-completion is a complex process that cannot normally be explained by any single factor. The reasons (many of which are inter-related) why people leave higher education include:
- incompatibility between the student and their course or institution;
- lack of preparation for higher education;
- lack of commitment to the course;
- financial hardship;
- poor academic progress; and
- health or other personal reasons.
The Department is not aware of research into the impact of benefit rules on students dropping out of access courses.
The UK non-completion rate has stayed broadly the same at around 17–18 per cent. since 1991–92 and this fell to just over 16 per cent. in the figures published in December 2003 by HEFCE. This represents one of the highest completion rates in the OECD and we are determined to maintain this level of performance.
HEFCE has allocated £225 million to institutions in 2003–04 for widening access and improving retention and recognises some of the additional costs of supporting students from non-traditional backgrounds and those who are less well prepared for higher education.