The number of students dropping out of their university courses across the UK has been lower this term than in previous years.
Despite the pressures of the pandemic and campus lockdowns, figures from the Student Loans Company show a fall in those leaving this autumn.
About 5,500 students withdrew from courses, compared with 6,100 last year.
The figures have been released on the day that the “travel window” opens for students to go home for Christmas.
The lower drop-out rate reflects the lack of any better alternatives this year, suggested Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank.
“What else are you going to do? You can’t travel and it’s hard to get a job,” he said.
“It’s not been as good a year as normal for students, but there are still lots of positives,” Mr Hillman added.
But many students heading home this week will not be returning to their universities for another nine weeks – as the government in England announced a staggered start to next term, with some students not back until 7 February.
The plan, to avoid a surge of students and the risk of spreading coronavirus, will see students returning over five weeks in the new year – with most courses starting online before a return to in-person teaching.
Mass testing for students gets under way
- Two Covid tests for students and then leave in 24 hours
The first students returning from 4 to 8 January will be for hands-on, practical courses which are difficult to teach solely online – which will include medicine, nursing and dentistry; sciences which need to use laboratories; or music, dance and drama.
Other subjects, such as English or history, would be taught online at the start of term, with students back between 25 January and 7 February.
Students will be offered two lateral flow Covid tests when they arrive back – similar to the process for their departure.
Momoh Suleman, studying social work at the University of Bradford, is sympathetic to the need for the delayed start – although wants something to be arranged about paying rent when he won’t be there.
“It’s the best idea to keep our families safe,” he said, and on balance he said it was right to have a staggered return if it reduced the risk of infection.
He is having two Covid tests this week before getting the train home to Manchester – and can’t wait to see his family, having decided it was safer not to see them during the term.
“I didn’t want to