Is undergraduate debt an impediment to postgraduate enrolment in England?

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Changes to undergraduate student funding arrangements in England have prompted concerns that increased indebtedness will deter graduates from postgraduate study. While it is clear that student debt has increased substantially in recent years, international evidence is equivocal on whether such debt is a deterrent to further study and there is hardly any prior research on this topic in the UK context. Using a large-scale survey of 2009 and 2012 graduates from six selective English universities, we investigate the association between undergraduate debt, other graduate characteristics and progression to postgraduate study. We find some association of higher debt levels with lower rates of progression to postgraduate study, although this reduces when controlling for other factors, such as degree-level attainment and subject discipline. Within a multivariate logistic regression model predicting progression to postgraduate study we find that debt is not a statistically significant predictor, although other characteristics are important. This indicates, we suggest, that underlying financial resources, rather than debt per se are critical in enabling access to postgraduate study. We consider the implications of recently-announced loans for postgraduate study in England given these findings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1149-1167
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number6
Early online date16 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2017

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© 2017, British Educational Research Association. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • postgraduate study
  • student debt
  • student funding
  • student loans

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