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CD-Rom guide reopens row on drop out rates

A CD-Rom version of the controversial universities guide, PUSH has been launched this week.

"PUSH CD (The Multimedia Student Guide to UK Universities)" uses a similar database to the printed PUSH guide which last year angered some universities.

At issue then, as now, were the non-completion rates in the old university sector, which the guide suggests are as high as one in five at some top institutions.

The statistics are compiled from performance indicators published by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals .

Johnnie Rich, the CD-Rom's editor, strongly defended the figures. "Everyone who has ever taken issue with the statistics has backed down when we explained the criteria to them," he said.

"We are independent and we pride ourselves on a warts-and-all approach, although we give credit where it's due. We are not here to sell institutions but to describe them."

Mr Rich believes that PUSH CD, which runs on IBM compatible PCs, is unique in the service it offers. Students can select their ideal institution, using the ten megabyte database with nearly 70,000 degree courses described, 7,500 photographs and seven hours of audio on the 128 universities listed. Mr Rich said that PUSH CD, published by McGraw Hill on Wednesday, aims to help students make the right choices, so avoiding the high drop-out rates .

Publicity for the CD-Rom again refers to the figures as "flunk rates", risking renewed university ire. "To call them flunk rates clearly does not give the whole spread of reasons why an individual does not complete in the year they expected to," said a spokeswoman for Kings College, London.

"In our language courses, not all students take the year abroad. In other words, they finish a year earlier than expected." This might happen when the student is already a fluent speaker of the language concerned. Kings claims a success rate of at least 86 per cent according to its own figures, equivalent to a drop-out rate below 14 per cent. PUSH, using 1992 figures, calculated a drop-out rate of 21.3 per cent for the college. "We do not understand how they have used CVCP's statistics to arrive at the figures," the spokeswoman said.

The CVCP has warned against preparing university league tables. In the foreword to the 1992 CVCP management statistics Euan Page, chair of the CVCP/UFC performance indicators steering committee writes: "I hope that no one will be tempted to try to abstract a league table from these figures. Such tables are nearly always misleading and often quite idiotic."

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