Two-thirds of UK universities and colleges have seen a rise in the proportion of students dropping out in recent years.
Data analysed by the Press Association found that in the period from 2011-12 to 2016-17, 100 higher education institutions (67 per cent) saw an increase in the proportion of students dropping out.
Forty-six institutions (31 per cent) saw a fall in dropout rates, while the figure was unchanged at four universities and colleges.
The largest proportional increase was seen at the University of Abertay, Dundee, which had an 8.6 percentage point rise from 3.5 per cent in 2011-12, to 12.1 per cent in 2016-17.
A spokesman for the university said it recognised “there is a need to improve student retention”.
In England, Bedfordshire University had the biggest increase, at 6.9 percentage points, rising from 8.3 per cent in 2011-12 to 15.2 per cent in 2016-17.
A spokeswoman said: “As a widening participation university our students can face challenging barriers to success.
She said many Bedfordshire students are “balancing the responsibilities of family and work with studying for a degree”, and “unable to turn to the bank of ‘mum and dad’”.
‘Up their game’
The analysis was based on data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency for 150 universities and colleges, and covers UK, full-time undergraduate students who were no longer in higher education the year after they started their course.
It comes at a time when student welfare is in the spotlight, with universities facing increased scrutiny over the support they give students and the value for money of their degrees.
In September the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, wrote to universities demanding they “up their game” by cutting drop out rates.
Responding to the latest figures, Chris Skidmore, the universities minister, said: “I want to see each university and indeed courses held individually accountable for how many students are successfully obtaining a degree, so that we can be transparent and open about where there are real problems.”
“Many universities are doing excellent work to support students, but it’s essential that dropout rates are reduced. We cannot afford to see this level of wasted talent,” he added.
A spokesman for Universities UK said: “Universities are committed to widening access to higher education and ensuring students from all backgrounds can succeed and progress.”
“This includes supporting students to achieve the best outcomes in not only getting into university, but flourishing while they are there.”
In October i reported that some universities are keeping electronic tabs on their students’ movements and using algorithms to identify those students most at risk of quitting.