Distinction and Diversity in Higher Education

Disadvantaged students more likely to thrive in smaller universities and colleges


Students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those entering higher education from state schools are less likely to drop out if they are studying in a small university or college, new figures show.

An analysis of the latest official performance measures for higher education shows that some of the country’s smaller and more specialised universities and colleges are doing better than their larger counterparts at beating government benchmarks for hanging on to their students.

Some are even retaining a higher proportion of their students than Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

And these institutions are keeping their drop-out rates down while recruiting more students from state schools and disadvantaged backgrounds than the average university.

Larger, more traditional universities are meanwhile failing to achieve their benchmarks both for teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds and retaining their students.

Alice Hynes, chief executive of GuildHE, the body that represents small and specialist universities and colleges, said:

“The latest performance indicators show that the more intimate educational communities, including smaller and specialist universities and colleges, are providing education on a human scale and it is paying dividends.

“These GuildHE institutions can legitimately claim to be the caring face of higher education. They put a lot of time, effort and resources into supporting their students, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds. The result is that they manage to retain students who might well drop out if they were studying in a larger more impersonal context.

“It is clear that many students prefer to study in the environment of a smaller institution where they can see how they fit in and where they get more personal attention. Perhaps this is why many GuildHE institutions are growing in popularity faster than any others in the country.”

A summary of the analysis is available here: