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Study confirms deterrent effect of student debt among school leavers

Universities UK Media Release, February, 2003:

Universities UK discussed at a seminar on Wednesday, February 5 the findings of its research into attitudes to debt among school leavers and further education students and their impact on participation in higher education (1).

The research forms part of the Student Debt project, commissioned by Universities UK and HEFCE. It confirms initial findings – released in December 2002 - that although overall respondents held positive attitudes towards HE, the fear of debt is deterring potential students – particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds – from entering higher education (2).

The analysis includes a postscript that considers the possible implications of the Government’s recent White Paper ‘The future of higher education’ on participation. This welcomes the restoration of means-tested grants for the poorest students and abolition of the upfront tuition fee, but highlights concerns relating to the potential impact of the introduction of variable fees. 

Diana Warwick, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "This report provides clear evidence that debt aversion is deterring some students from entering HE, particularly those from under-represented groups. Steps need to be taken by all those involved - Government, HEIs, schools and colleges – to ensure that all those who can benefit from going to university are not deterred from doing so by the prospect of debt."

Professor Diana Green, Chair of the Student Debt Project steering group and Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, added: "The postscript on the White Paper predicts that some of the Government’s proposed changes should help, particularly the reintroduction of grants for the poorest students. However, the grant may not be large, or extensive enough to make a significant difference, particularly for those students who may benefit from EMAs. In addition, the findings of this research do reinforce some of the concerns raised about the impact of the White Paper proposals on participation by prospective students from debt-averse groups."

The Student Debt seminar, held at Universities UK’s London headquarters, focused on the findings of the project together with discussion of the wider issues arising from the research (3). Professor Diana Green chaired the conference and speakers included Margaret Hodge MP, Minister for Higher Education and Professor Claire Callender, author of the report.

Analysis for a second report, carried out at the same time but looking at attitudes to debt and the impact of term-time working on academic performance among current HE students, is in its final stages and will be published later in February.


Universities UK commissioned research examining the impact of student debt in 2000 and published its initial findings in December 2002. The report ‘Attitudes to debt: School leavers’ and further education students’ attitudes to debt and their impact on participation in higher education’, was commissioned by Universities UK and HEFCE from Professor Claire Callender, South Bank University. The report and executive summary is available from the UUK website. Hard copies will be available later in February 2003.

The initial findings of the research were released in December 2002. For further information, please refer to media release 330 at: 

For further information: 

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Last updated: 7 February 2003 10:55
Created by: Rachel Tunstall

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