Concerns over the impact of debt on participation in higher education (HE) have dominated much of the debate surrounding the most recent reforms of financial support for full-time students in England, including the introduction of variable tuition fees. Yet few studies have attempted to explore this issue in a statistically robust manner. This article attempts to fill that gap. It examines the relationship between prospective HE students' attitudes to debt, and their decisions about whether or not to enter HE. Using data derived from a survey of just under 2,000 prospective students, it shows how those from low social classes are more debt averse than those from other social classes, and are far more likely to be deterred from going to university because of their fear of debt, even after controlling for a wide range of other factors. The article concludes that these findings pose a serious policy dilemma for the Westminster government. Their student funding policies are predicated on the accumulation of debt and thus are in danger of deterring the very students at the heart of their widening participation policies.
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