The Socio-Economic Gap in University Drop Out
It has been shown in the recent literature on widening participation that in England a disadvantaged pupil has as much a chance of attending a university as a more advantaged student, provided that s/he manages to reach a sufficient level of achievement at the secondary school level. This finding leads to an important conclusion of no genuine socio-economic gap in university participation once prior attainments have been taken into account. The current article investigates whether the same conclusion can be reached with respect to university drop-out. Using a combination of school and higher education administrative data sets, we are able to show that there is indeed a sizeable and statistically significant gap in the rate of withdrawal after the first year of university between the most advantaged and disadvantaged English students. This socio-economic gap in university drop-out remains even after allowing for their personal characteristics, prior achievement and institution choice. Our results thus suggest that the use of raw drop out rates in the English university 'league table' as one of the main indicators of university efficiency can be quite misleading given that the ranking of universities by drop out rate would change markedly if the prior attainment of students were taken fully into account.
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