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Taking action in higher education

Widening participation is not just about getting students through the door

26 July 2007 | last updated: 14 December 2015

UCU warned today that more must be done to help students from non-traditional backgrounds when they arrive at university. The union was commenting on the National Audit Office's 'Staying the course' report released today looking at retention rates of students in higher education.

The report reveals that one in five students starting a full-time course in England is unlikely to complete it. It also details the huge variations in retention rates at different institutions and that it is the institutions taking the most students from non-traditional backgrounds that have the highest drop out rates.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "It is encouraging that overall the UK compares well with other countries when it comes to students completing their degree courses. However, it is alarming that the institutions that are doing so much to further the widening participation agenda are the ones suffering the highest drop out rates.

'We have to understand that just getting students through the door of a university is not enough. All students need to be able realise their full potential at university and we must recognise that different students from different backgrounds have different needs at university. University staff do an incredible job with their students, but ever-increasing student numbers and rocketing class sizes make that task ever harder.

'Going to university can be an incredibly difficult time, especially with the added pressures of debt on the current generation of students. UCU's Lifechangers campaign rewarded a number of people for their work in helping students from non-traditional backgrounds get through university. The work of those dedicated individuals quite literally changed the lives of their students, however too many still slip through the net.'