By Henrietta Cook (THE AGE).

Victoria has the best and worst university completion rates in Australia, according to new Education Department data.

The figures also reveal that national completion rates have dropped to their lowest ever levels, with just 66 per cent of Australian students who started their degree in 2010 completing it within six years.

Federation University recorded the lowest completion rates for a mainstream university, with 36.4 per cent of students who started a course in 2010 finishing within six years.

But deputy vice-chancellor Professor Andy Smith said the university had under-reported its completion rates, and the figures were higher. He said the university had introduced a new program to boost retention rates and also provided mentoring, tutoring and counselling services.

“Regional university students face unique challenges that are not experienced by metropolitan based students, which impacts on the time it takes them to complete a tertiary degree. This must be taken into consideration by government in funding discussions,” he said.

The University of Melbourne had the highest completion rate in Australia, with 87.7 per cent of students finishing their course within six years.

This stark difference in outcome is explained by the vastly different students that these institutions enrol.

While the University of Melbourne enrols many advantaged students with high ATARs , Federation University enrols more disadvantaged, rural students with lower ATARs.

The figures show that Indigenous, regional and poorer students and those with ATARs below 50 are significantly less likely to complete their undergraduate studies.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham used the data to criticise universities over their performance.

He spruiked his controversial plan to link university funding to performance targets – which is stalled in the Senate – saying it would provide more accountability.

“It’s clear some of our universities need to take a close look at their efforts and do more to support the students they enrol with significant taxpayer subsidies,” he said.

Separate data, released in the Graduate Outcomes Survey on Wednesday, highlights a decline in employment outcomes for Australian students who graduated in 2014.

Just 67.5 per cent of these graduates found full-time work within four months. This compares to 83.6 per cent of 2007 graduates.