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Non-continuation: UK Performance Indicators

UK Performance Indicators: Non-Continuation Rates

This edition of the UK Performance Indicators will be the last release in this current form. A review of existing indicators will determine which measures will be migrated into core official statistics and open data published in 2023. Please see this news item and associated blog post for more information.

From 2020/21, HESA are no longer producing POLAR data for Northern Ireland. Low participation indicators based on POLAR4 data for providers in Northern Ireland have not been produced for this year.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organisation in March 2020, just over half way through the 2019/20 academic year. An insight brief has been published that analyses the impact of the pandemic on student data and trends across years of enrolments and qualifications across various characteristics. There are two known areas in which the pandemic has had some impact:

  • There is evidence to suggest that among a few providers, administrative hold-ups related to the pandemic resulted in significant numbers of qualifications awarded in 2019/20 not being reported. The impact of this under-reporting is believed to explain some of the 3% decrease in the number of qualifications achieved in 2019/20 compared with 2018/19, and the impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded. Qualifications that were not reported in the 2019/20 academic year have carried over to 2020/21 and contributed to the 9% increase in the number of qualifications awarded in 2020/21.
  • In relation to classifications of first degrees and other awards, many providers issued public statements that a 'no detriment' approach would be adopted when it came to assessment in 2019/20. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment.

Qualifications awarded are not used in the widening participation indicators, but are used in the non-continuation indicators.

The 2019/20 and 2020/21 data was collected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Exceptional guidance was issued to HE providers regarding a number of data fields within the collections to clarify HESA's expectations about how these fields should be treated in light of the pandemic.

Retention rates have remained fairly stable over the last few years. Between 2019/20 and 2020/21, an increase in the percentage of entrants continuing in HE after their first year can be observed across all cohorts (first degree, other undergraduates, young and mature). While this cannot be directly attributed to the pandemic there is often a trend for increased HE enrolments in periods of economic uncertainty and perhaps this behaviour extends to a desire to continue degree courses when other paths outside HE are less certain.

This release contains detailed information on: Non-continuation following year of entry | Resumption of study after a year out | Projected outcomes for 2015/16 to 2020/21.

View the summary non-continuation tables and charts

The purpose of the indicators is to provide an objective measure of how the UK higher education (HE) sector is performing.

For any individual who enrols at an HE provider, there are a range of outcomes that the student may achieve after a particular time. In these tables we define a student to have continued if they obtain a qualification (not necessarily the one they were originally aiming for) or remain active at the same HE provider (even if studying a different course to the one originally started). See the non-continuation definition for more detail. 

Table T5, which shows projected outcomes, is based on the previous method of calculating the UK Performance Indicators and does not include providers who submit to the Student Alternative record. Please see the publication archive for data prior to 2015/16.

Tables and charts included within this release include an academic year filter, allowing users to change between the current and previous years of data.

Non-continuation following year of entry (Table series T3)

This method is based on tracking students from the year they enter an HE provider to the following year (for full-time students, T3a-T3d) or the following two years (for part-time students, T3e) and provides information about where the students are in that year: continuing at the same HE provider (either on the same course or elsewhere in the HE provider), transferred to another HE provider, or absent from higher education completely.

Full-time undergraduate entrants (Table T3)

The indicators for full-time entrants in Table T3a-d show, for each HE provider:

  • The percentage who continue at the same HE provider, transfer to another HE provider and are no longer in HE the year after entry.
  • For first degree entrants the percentages who continue, transfer and are no longer in HE by low participation neighbourhood marker (for young entrants) and previous HE marker (for mature entrants).

Table T3 – Non-continuation following year of entry

UK domiciled full-time undergraduate entrants who did not leave within 50 days of commencement at HE providers

Academic years of entry 2014/15 to 2019/20

Show:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Supplementary table NC5 below shows the percentage of full-time undergraduate entrants who are no longer in HE by the benchmark factors (entry qualifications and subject area) for both young and mature first degree and all other undergraduates to provide some contextual figures for the sector and in the derivation of the benchmarks. This table only shows data for 2019/20 due to the change from JACS subject to CAH subject version 1.2, for earlier time series using JACS please see Table NC1

Table NC5 - Percentage of entrants to full-time undergraduate courses who are no longer in HE by subject and entry qualification

UK domiciled entrants who did not leave within 50 days of commencement

Academic years of entry 2019/20

 
 
 
 

Part-time first degree entrants (Table T3e)

The indicators for part-time entrants in Table T3e show, for each HE provider:

  • The percentage who continue at the same HE provider (either on the same course or elsewhere in the HE provider), transfer to another HE provider, or are absent from higher education completely two years after entry with a split for young and mature entrants.

Table T3e – Non-continuation two years following academic year of entry

UK domiciled part-time first degree entrants who did not leave within 50 days of commencement

Academic years of entry 2014/15 to 2018/19

Show:

 
 
 
 
 

Resumption of study after a year out (Table series T4)

Some students who leave higher education during or at the end of the first year will return after a year out. Table series T4 includes statistics about such returns for full-time students. These are not provided as indicators, but to give some extra information which may be used with the indicators in table series T3 to give a fuller picture. Table series T4 gives the percentage of students who were absent from HE the year after they entered, who returned to higher education, either at the same HE provider or at another HE provider, the following year. The final column expresses the percentage of entrants who did not return to HE two years after they entered.

Table T4 – Resumption of study after a year out

UK domiciled full-time undergraduate entrants who did not leave within 50 days of commencement

Academic years of entry 2014/15 to 2018/19

 
 
 
 
 
 

Projected outcomes (Table T5)

The other method for producing non-completion rates projects what proportion of the full-time first degree starters are likely to be in each of the 'end states' after a period of fifteen years (that is, having gained a qualification, transferred to another HE provider, or been absent from HE for two consecutive years). The fifteen year period has been chosen as an over-estimate of the amount of time that the majority of full-time first degree students should have reached one of these end states.

The projection is based on the current pattern of students at the HE provider. Firstly, we define a 'transition population' which consists of students who were active on a full-time first degree course in a particular academic year plus students who were active on a full-time first degree course in the previous year, excluding those who have obtained a degree. For each student in the transition population, we look at their 'state' (mode of study, level of study, HE provider, year of programme and if applicable, qualification obtained) in the academic year in question and in the following academic year. Assuming that this pattern of students is typical for the HE provider, this is used to anticipate the state of the full-time first degree starters up to fifteen years on. The list of possible 'states' a student can be in are listed in the technical document. Due to the nature of this method, a very small number of students may not have reached one of the 'end states' after fifteen years and are shown in a 'not known' column of the table. High numbers in the not known column are often a result of HE providers which have made major changes, either to the format of their degree programmes or to the way they record that format.

In technical terms, projecting students is equivalent to multiplying a scalar matrix of starters by a matrix of students in the transition population a total of fourteen times to represent a period of fifteen years. Full details of the method used can be found in the technical document.

This table is based on students studying at HE providers, excluding HE provision registered at providers who submit to the Student Alternative record, see definitions for details.

Table T5 – Projected learning outcomes

UK domiciled full-time students starting first degree courses

Academic years of entry 2015/16 to 2019/20

 
 
 
 

The supplementary table NC2 provides the percentages of students moving from start state to end state across two academic years.  

Table NC2 - All publicly funded HE providers transition matrix for sector

UK domiciled full-time first degree starters

Academic years of entry 2015/16 to 2019/20

 
 

Supplementary table NC3 provides a time series of UK domiciled full-time first degree starters by their year of programme.

Table NC3 - Percentage of starters by start year of programme and academic year of entry

UK domiciled full-time first degree starters

Academic years of entry 2002/03 to 2019/20

 

Supplementary table NC4 shows a time series of the sector projected outcomes for first degree starters. In this projection, the concept of transferring to another HE provider is removed. As long as a student progresses, irrespective of which HE provider they study at, they contribute to the percentage projected to qualify. This means that the percentage projected to obtain a first degree will be higher than the UK total in Table T5.

Table NC4 - Sector projected learning outcomes

UK domiciled full-time students starting first degree courses

Academic years of entry 2003/04 to 2019/20

 

 

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