Number of students suspending studies at Falmouth doubles in four years

Written by Ivan Edwards and Annissa Warsame |

The number of students who have dropped out or paused their studies at Falmouth University has almost doubled in four years.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by The Falmouth Anchor shows that 304 students voluntarily suspended their studies in 2017-18, a marked increase when compared to the 154 studies suspended in 2014-15.

The figures include those who have chosen to drop out or temporarily pause their studies, but not those who left university because they did not achieve the required grades to continue. Voluntary suspensions have increased year-on-year since 2015.

Falmouth University
Photo: Tim Green

The university has defended its student retention rate, arguing that there has also been a rise in overall student numbers in that period.

A university spokesperson told The Falmouth Anchor: “It’s worth noting that the University’s student numbers grew significantly in the period 2014-15 to 2017-18. Undergraduate numbers at Falmouth grew over 24% over this period and these numbers are published on the Higher Education Statistics Agency website.

“The University operates a wide range of student retention initiatives and projects, including student mentoring and an early indicator system measuring student engagement with taught classes and university systems.”

Student satisfaction

The sharp increase in voluntary suspensions raises questions about student satisfaction and the quality of courses at Falmouth. There has been controversy in recent years as arts programmes have been cut in favour of business-oriented courses.

One review of the business course on Which? University, by a first year student in 2018, says: “It’s a very new course, so things sometimes feel a little rough, e.g. staff not communicating with each other properly, nobody having a proper brief for assignments, that kind of thing.”

However, Falmouth is certified Gold under the Teaching Excellence Framework, the government scheme for measuring teaching quality at universities, placing it among the top 41 universities in the country.

The university has a student satisfaction rating of 80%, according to the 2018 National Student Survey.

Table: How many students voluntarily suspended their studies each year between 2014 and 2018?
FalmouthExeter
2014-1515468
2015-1616872
2016-1723769
2017-1830472

* Figures for Exeter courses based in Cornwall only. For Exeter, any interrupted students spanning across two or more academic years are counted in each academic year.

Sarah Redman, FXU President Student Experience, commented on the figures, saying: “Any decrease in retention rates is a big concern for us as the Students’ Union.

“We have developed our Student Voice structure to be more bespoke to students at each institution so that we can really dig into issues they may be having on a course level and are working hard to address these. In addition we are about to launch ‘Own It’ and ‘Choose Your Day’ which are two campaigns focusing on engaging students with activities to improve their wellbeing and sense of belonging at university.”

Exeter

In the same time period, the number of students dropping out or pausing their studies at University of Exeter courses based in Cornwall has remained almost constant, with between 68 and 72 students voluntarily suspending their studies each year.

There are currently around 2,500 students at University of Exeter Cornwall Campuses, meaning the 2017-18 drop-out rate was roughly 3%, compared to 5.6% for Falmouth.

A University of Exeter spokesperson said: “Students may suspend their study for a range of reasons including health, family or financial and the University does what it can to support students to re-engage with their studies at a later date.

“The number of students who suspend their study has remained about the same over the last 4 years and we will continue to look at any trends, as well as the support we can offer.”

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