Student attrition targets shift from unlikely to illusory
The latest survey shows little change in the attrition rate for nursing students, while official targets to improve it are shifting from the unlikely to the illusory
Our latest survey shows little change in the attrition rate for nursing students, while official targets to improve it are shifting from the unlikely to the illusory
One in four UK nursing students drops out of their degree course before graduating. This was the headline finding in a survey carried out by Nursing Standard and the Health Foundation, which used freedom of information legislation to obtain university-level data on nursing student dropout rates.
The data came from 55 out of a total of 74 UK universities offering nursing degrees. It showed that of the 16,544 UK nursing students who started three-year degrees that were due to finish in 2017, 4,027 left their courses early or suspended their studies, giving a UK-wide average attrition rate of 24%.
Impact on costs
Previous studies carried out by Nursing Standard have made similar findings. In 2008 the overall average attrition rate was 24.8%, in 2010 it was 28% and last year it was 25.1%. With this year’s rate of 24%, these figures across the past decade suggest little change in the overall rate.
The findings raise two major concerns. First, despite its impact on individual students and on the overall cost-effectiveness of pre-registration education, there appears to have been no real sustained improvement in the average attrition rates.
Lack of transparency
Second, attrition rates are not made public in a systematic or standardised way. This lack of transparency makes it difficult to develop an effective way of tracking and comparing attrition rates in different universities, which vary hugely.
The latest Nursing Standard survey found that at individual university level the calculated attrition rate ranged from as much as 50% to as little as 5%.
In 2015 the Department of Health told Health Education England (HEE) it was mandating a halving of the attrition rate, without saying what the rate was.
In 2016 it argued that moving to student loans would enable universities to provide ‘up to 10,000 additional nursing, midwifery and allied health training places over this parliament’.
Both targets are shifting from the unlikely to the illusory.
James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
More from James Buchan