The Oxfordshire Guardian has reported that Oxford University drop-outs resulting from physical and mental health issues are the highest among English, law, and Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) students. The findings were revealed through a recent investigation instigated via a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian.
According to the report, 11% of all students who have dropped out of Oxford in the past four academic years were English students. Last year, in the 2014-2015 academic year, seven English students dropped out of the university—the highest number of students to have dropped out from a single academic discipline not only for the 2014-2015 year, but for the three academic years prior as well.
All of the drop-outs considered in the investigation were undertaken for medical reasons, e.g. physical illness, stress, and other mental health difficulties.
The Oxford University Student Union (OUSU)’s Alasdair Lennon, vice-president for welfare and equal opportunities, told the Guardian that the findings of the investigation might not necessarily indicate that English, law, and the PGCE program are among the most difficult areas of study offered at the University.
“I think everyone at the university would say that their subject is the hardest and it’s difficult to think about how you’d measure that”
“I think everyone at the university would say that their subject is the hardest and it’s difficult to think about how you’d measure that”, Lennon said. “I took law, so of course I would say that it’s the hardest; however, a lot of students take English and law so that might be a reason behind the figures”.
Oxford University’s drop-out statistics as a whole suggest that the university fares better systemically than most others in the country—its drop-out rate is only 1.6% compared to the national average of around seven percent. However, the statistics coming from the University do not indicate what percentage of the drop-outs are due to physical and mental health issues, nor how Oxford’s medical drop-out rates compare with those of England’s wider university population.
The University does not publish data on the demographics of dropped-out students, but the prominence of student advocacy groups for mental health within the institution speak to students’ concerns about the effects of rigorous academics on mental wellbeing.
Beth McAllister, a spokesperson for the mental health charity Oxfordshire Mind, states that different people experience different kinds of stress. “For students, this can be their exams, deadlines, or the pressures of living away from home”, she said.
“Students can often talk to a university counselling service or get some peer support through their university”.
Over the past four years, a total of 155 students have dropped out of the University, which hosts a student population of over 22,600, including approximately 11,600 undergraduates and 10,500 postgrads.
“The decision to withdraw from studying for medical reasons is never taken lightly, and students may experience a wide variety of circumstances that lead to a medical withdrawal”, said a spokesperson for Oxford University. “Oxford’s high student retention rate reflects the personalised support students receive”.