Student completion rates in Europe

Ellie Bothwell How student completion rates vary across Europe, A comparison of some of the national policies aimed at addressing study success


Completion rate: 81 per cent

Denmark is among the top performers in Europe with regard to completion rates, although this figure dropped by 4 percentage points between 2005 and 2011, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Further data collected for the European Commission report, based on a survey answered by national experts, reveals that there is a 6 percentage point gap between completion rates for bachelor’s students (79 per cent) and master’s students (85 per cent).

In 2013, the Danish government introduced reforms that mean the funding of students and institutions is dependent on students’ achievements. The introduction of a mandatory study plan system means that full-time students are obliged to select course packages of at least 60 European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credits per year (or 30 per semester), they cannot withdraw from the exams related to these courses, and they must enrol for new courses each year.

This system has been debated in Denmark, but the European Commission says that it is expected to reveal a strong impact on students to complete within the nominal study duration. However, because of the recent implementation of these reforms, there is no evidence of their effectiveness yet.

Norway Completion rate: 59 per cent

The Netherlands

Completion rate: 72 per cent

The Netherlands’ central mission around study success is to achieve a good match between the student and the study programme. In 1996, the government introduced a system where all basic student funding became loans, but the loan was converted into a non-repayable grant if the student completed their degree within 10 years.

Until 2011, about 50 per cent of university funding for teaching was related to successfully completed degrees. Since then, this component has been reduced to about 25 per cent. Although no hard proof is available, both funding arrangements are said to have contributed to a gradual decrease in the average time to degree from 6.5 to 5.8 years for four-year bachelor-master university courses.

United Kingdom Completion rate: 82 per cent

Czech Republic Completion rate: 72 per cent

France Completion rate: 80 per cent

The completion rate in the UK increased from 74 per cent in 2005 to 82 per cent in 2011, according to OECD data. A key driver of this growth was the implementation of annual tuition fees in England of £1,000 per student in 1998 and the subsequent increases, resulting in a cap of £9,000 in 2012. This change of regime was partly aimed at improving institutions’ retention and completion rates as they become dependent on students and study success for their funding.

Institutions receive additional funds with regard to the profile of their student population. Universities charging fees above £6,000 have to indicate in an access agreement how they spend this additional money, which must be used to implement measures to ensure access and success of students from lower socio-economic family backgrounds.

The European Commission says that the high completion rate is due to a “fairly tight admissions system”, in which institutional autonomy has been retained, and a widespread and embedded expectation from institutions and students that completion is possible in three years, except in exceptional circumstances.

Germany Completion rate: not disclosed (77 per cent in 2005)

Poland Completion rate: 62 per cent

Note: Care should be taken when comparing completion rates as two calculation methods have been used: a cross-section method where the number of graduates in a particular year is divided by the number of new entrants and a true-cohort method that calculates completion rates longitudinally by tracking the students who begin a programme.

Source: Dropout and Completion in Higher Education in Europe, European Commission. Completion rates supplied by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Education at a Glance 2013(based on 2011 data)