Swinburn Uni has the highest 1st year drop out rate
Federation University in Ballarat had the second highest dropout rate in Victoria, with 28.8 per cent of local students dropping out in their first year, the highest proportion to do so since 2001. At Victoria University, the attrition rate was 26.4 per cent.
The University of Melbourne had the lowest dropout rate in the country, with just 7.5 per cent of first-year students leaving their courses.
Overseas students had considerably lower first-year dropout rates, with about one in 12 opting to discontinue their studies.
The national dropout rate for first year students hit 21 per cent, the highest in more than a decade.
Once adjusted to take into account students who had changed courses at their university, this fell to 15.2 per cent.
Grattan Institute higher education expert Andrew Norton said the massive growth in online courses and part-time students – following the introduction of the demand-driven system – were the biggest factors driving dropout rates.
"It's not that the online courses are bad; it's that when you are studying online ... you can't get to a campus, and that's often because you have work and family responsibilities. Those things are competing for your attention, making it hard to put in the required hours."
He said Swinburne University's dropout rate had increased in the wake of its decision to launch Swinburne Online, while the University of Tasmania's 42.5 per cent first-year dropout rate was also a result of its appetite for online courses.
He said students with low ATARs were also much more likely to drop out, and universities had a responsibility to inform students of these risks.
"Are people being told that they are taking a substantial risk of dropping out and incurring debt?" he said.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said policymakers and educators needed to make a "concerted effort" to reduce the "persistent" attrition rate.
"Universities and higher education providers in particular must take responsibility for the students they enrol, because the attrition rate has hovered around 15 per cent for the last decade," he said.
University of Melbourne pro-vice chancellor (academic) Richard James, who is also the director of the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, said institutions that had been aggressive recruiters in the demand-driven system had the highest dropout rates.
"As you expand participation, you get more uncertainty, you get less commitment over the student cohort," he said.
This led to extra costs for taxpayers and students, he said. "It is quite right for the public to be concerned about attrition rates at certain universities."
Universities Australia deputy chief executive Catriona Jackson said it was an "achievement" that attrition rates had remained stable for the past decade.
"The figures serve as a reminder of the importance of programs designed to not only improve access but to enhance student retention and completion rates in the modern university system.
A Swinburne University spokeswoman said that the university was investing in student intervention, development and advancement programs.
"The sector has acknowledged that online education has higher attrition rates because students who choose to study online are typically busy working adults who need the flexibility of online to balance their work, family and study commitments," she said.