A sixth of students who begin a third level course do not continue into their second year.

A study by the Higher Education Authority has found that non-progression rates are higher among male students and those studying in institutes of technology.

The study was based on students beginning courses in 2010/2011 and follows a similar study of 2007/2008 entrants.

It found that 84% of first-time undergraduate students in 2010 progressed with the course the following year, compared to 85% in the previous study.

Progression in computing courses improved since 2007.

The drop out rates after first year decreased from 35% to 31% at level six, 36% to 34% at level seven and 25% to 23% at level eight.

The study found that students studying medicine, veterinary and teacher education have the highest rate of progression.

Meanwhile, concern continues about high levels of non-progression in construction-related courses.

Chairman of the Higher Education Authority John Hennessy said: "Behind these statistics, there are around 7,000 students who do not progress from first to second year.

"This has an impact on their lives but is also costly to the system."

Mr Hennessy said Ireland has one of the highest participation rates in higher education in the world and improvements in progression in computing and science are welcome.

However, he added: "We need to understand why many students don't make it through.

"There is increased emphasis by the colleges on support in first year, but we need to ask are some students sufficiently prepared for college life?

"Do they pick the wrong course and therefore, need greater guidance at second level?"