A briefing note written by market research agency Red Brick Research for its UK clients, and seen by GSL, shows the extent of the drop-out threat UK universities are facing as students consider whether or not to continue their university studies through lockdown.

The internal research is based on polling of more than 7,000 students carried out in late October and compares responses from 2020 to equivalent data from 2018 and 2019 at the same time of year.

The document highlights a number of worrying findings:

  • Overall satisfaction with freshers’ university experience has dropped by a massive 24 percentage points from 94% satisfaction at this stage in previous years, down to just 70% in 2020
  • Freshers in 2020 are much more likely to have seriously considered dropping out over the last month than in previous years – up from 9% to 15% with a further 19% saying they are unsure (up from 10%)
  • The increase is driven mainly by female students where serious drop-out consideration has nearly doubled to 19% compared with 11% at this time last year

The Covid-impacted university experience is also taking a more significant toll on the mental health of female undergraduates who report lower wellbeing scores than in previous years across a number of areas including;

  • Finding social activity in their accommodation less enjoyable
  • Finding it more difficult to relax and to think clearly
  • Feeling they are struggling to make up their minds or to deal with problems well
  • Being less optimistic about their future

It is clear from the paper that while there was already a significantly increased risk of university drop-outs compared to previous years, the UK government’s move back into a national lockdown will only increase the risks. Many students are being forced to chose between quitting university to face a desolate labour market or struggling on through mental health and wellbeing challenges to continue their studies, however diminished the experience may be.