Credit: Dorota Dziki

First-generation students more likely to drop out according to a new report

By Tristan Rees

A report by HEPI has assessed the challenges for first-generation students.

A HEPI report found that students who were the first in their family to attend university are more likely to drop out. The survey found the two-thirds of students at UK universities are first-generation graduates. First-generation students were found to be less likely to attend a “highly selective” institution and are more likely to drop out of their course than those with graduate parents.

The gap between students attending Russell Group universities and post-1992 institutions is significant. According to the report, only 21% of first-generation students attend Russell Group institutions compared with 31% of their peers: the majority (55%) attend post-1992 universities. 

The research also showed the share of first-generation graduates varied by subject choice and higher education institution. The subjects attracting the highest share of first-generation students were those that are seen as having direct links to employment. Education is the most popular course, with 87% of its students being first-generation. Business follows close behind, at 78% of course graduates being first-generation university students.

Once at a higher education institution, first-generation students face challenges adapting to university life due to a lack of “social capital”, according to the report. This can make the university experience all the more difficult and the report found that first-generation students are more likely to drop out of university than other students, stating: “First-generation students are more likely than their peers to drop out of their chosen courses and have challenging transitions to higher education because they lack the social capital of their continuing generation peers.”

The report concludes that in all, the term first-generation, which is used as an admission tool by 15 out of 24 Russell Group universities, is too wide and that going forward universities need to use a wider range of admission criteria. The report suggested that to improve experiences at universities for first-generation students, mentoring networks with alumni and should be set up to give students a regular point of contact.


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