Expert advice

Student attrition: why we need to be systematic in tackling it

Lack of standardised data hampers efforts to help students stay the course to graduation
Attrition

Nursing Standard research suggests attrition in undergraduate nursing programmes varies widely but remains high overall

Everyone agrees nursing student attrition is a big issue, but we only know just how big, courtesy of Nursing Standard.

Despite the critical need to understand how many nursing students fail to complete their education, there is no standardised, publicly available data.

Research on attrition gives us a picture of trends

Nursing Standard has to do all the hard work, chasing up each university using Freedom of Information requests. It has done this repeatedly in recent years, building up both a picture of trends over time and variation between universities.

Results of the student attrition survey
...

Nursing Standard research suggests attrition in undergraduate nursing programmes varies widely but remains high overall

Picture: iStock

Everyone agrees nursing student attrition is a big issue, but we only know just how big, courtesy of Nursing Standard.

Despite the critical need to understand how many nursing students fail to complete their education, there is no standardised, publicly available data.

Research on attrition gives us a picture of trends

Nursing Standard has to do all the hard work, chasing up each university using Freedom of Information requests. It has done this repeatedly in recent years, building up both a picture of trends over time and variation between universities.

Results of the student attrition survey

Using a straightforward measure of attrition, this year’s survey highlights that one in four nursing students due to complete their three-year course in the 2018-19 academic year did not do so.

The attrition rate varies significantly in different courses and institutions; some universities report that more than half of their nursing students do not complete after three years, while others report attrition rates in single figures.

The data were from 56 UK universities offering nursing degrees. The UK average attrition rate in 2018-19 was reported to be 24% – equalling the figure for last year. Attrition was highest on learning disabilities programmes, at 30%.

Universities and students need transparency on institutions’ performance

These findings raise three major concerns. Firstly, 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 in different universities, and there appears to be huge variance.

Secondly, it hinders prospective nursing students when they are trying to select a course that has a better than average record on attrition.

Thirdly, the survey results suggest there has been no sustained improvement in the overall attrition rate in recent years.

This year has seen a much-lauded increase in the number of nursing students accepted on to courses.

We need to remember this represents the beginning of the efforts required to increase the numbers of new graduate nurses, not the end.


Want to read more?

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursing standard.com and the Nursing Standard app
  • Monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs