UNIVERSITIES in the North-East are missing targets to attract students from deprived areas and to tackle drop-out rates.

Performance indicators released by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) yesterday revealed that although popular universities, such as Durham and Newcastle, have low drop-out rates, they are failing to attract enough students from poorer backgrounds.

New universities Teesside and Sunderland score highly in recruiting students from a range of backgrounds, but their drop-out rates of more than 20 per cent are among the worst in the country.

Northumbria University was alone in the North-East in hitting its targets for drop-out and improving the social mix.

The figures, published annually, cover 169 higher education institutions in Britain.

Sunderland is rated the top English university for attracting students who would not normally take up higher education, but has 24 per cent dropping out before they finish their degree.

Mark White, head of the vice-chancellor's office at Teesside University, which has a drop-out rate of 21 per cent, said: "The university recruits a diverse range of students with a wide background of qualifications and experience, as the performance indicators show."

Newcastle has a drop-out rate of seven per cent and is 14 per cent behind the target on state schools.

Durham has a low drop-out rate of five per cent, but is 12 per cent behind the HEFCE targets for attracting students from state schools.

A spokesman for Durham University said the figures referred to the situation in 1999. Since then, the university had introduced a number of initiatives to attract students from a wider range of backgrounds.

This included going into schools and raising the aspirations of potential students as young as 13.