The importance of
tracking and correcting student attrition

Student attrition

Student attrition

Each year, 240,000 students commence higher education in Australia

3 in 10

students will not complete a degree within eight years.

Attrition causes a brain drain, missed opportunities and a real equity issue.

With knock-on effects for diversity, equity and inclusion in the professional workforce.


Universities need a diverse workforce in terms of cultural and gender identities, skills sets, and modes of interaction. Some students, for example, might be more likely to reach out if they know they can do it in their first language. Other students might not need a counselling session but could benefit just from a quick check in peer support adviser.

Dr Benjamin Wilkes,

Head Student Wellbeing, Education, University of Sydney
Student attrition-2

Download eBook:

6 ways Australian universities are stopping student attrition.

University Revenue and funding

University revenue and funding

  • University revenue fell 6% or $2.2 billion from 2019. Operating surpluses across the sector fell by $1.6 billion.
  • In 2020, international student revenue fell in real terms by $868 million, or 8.6%, to $9.2 billion.
  • Every missed six-monthly intake of international students is costing universities between $1 billion and $1.2 billion.
University Revenue and funding-2

The annual surplus for the university sector was $669 million in 2020, the lowest since at least 2009. In terms of surplus or deficit as a proportion of total revenue, this represents a margin of 1.9%.

And there were substantial differences across universities’ operating results in 2020. Considerable surpluses over $100m were recorded by Monash University, the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney, accounting for most of the entire sector surplus, while 15 universities reported a deficit.

How are universities addressing student rentention now

How are universities addressing retention in response to these trends?

See more tips from Australian university leaders about how they are addressing attrition now.

Download the ebook:

6 ways Australian universities are stopping student attrition.


3 in 10

82,273 or 34%

are first in family

  • 21,390 will consider leaving university in their first year
  • 27,972 will consider leaving in later years
29,313 or 18.7%
are from regional areas
  • Remote students have a non-completion risk of about 33%.
  • For students from very remote locations that risk increases to 36%.
26,456 or 16.9%
are from a low socio-economic background
  • Students in the lowest decile have a 33% risk of non completion


Positive rating for the entire student experience sits at 73%.


Positive ratings for learner engagement are below 50%.