Student loans and participation in postgraduate education: the case of English master’s loans

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Higher education researchers have paid little attention to postgraduate participation. This issue has become more prominent in England following the introduction of high undergraduate fees. Many predicted that master’s participation would decline consequently, strengthening known inequalities in access by socio-economic background at master’s level. The introduction of master’s loans in 2016/17 intended to help those without access to independent resources afford master’s study. We investigate whether this intention was realised by analysing an exceptionally detailed dataset containing information on the destinations of all UK first-degree graduates between 2012/13 and 2016/17 (N = 1,360,965). In doing so we test two hypotheses: master’s loans will increase overall enrolment; and latent demand for master’s among underrepresented groups will mean rates of master’s participation will increase more rapidly for those groups when loans are available. Our results confirm the hypotheses: (1) after the introduction of master’s loans in England, overall enrolment rates increased from 8.9% in 2015/16 to 12.5% the year loans were introduced; and (2) the probability of progressing to a taught master’s across socio-economic groups changed substantially, with students from hitherto underrepresented groups reaching similar rates than their more advantaged counterparts after 2016/17.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)698-716
Number of pages19
JournalOxford Review of Education
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2020

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  • Student loans
  • postgraduate education
  • master's degree
  • social inequalities
  • Higher Education
  • university funding

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