The study, by academics at the London School of Economics’ Centre for the Economics of Education, looked at the reaction of university participation rates to funding reforms from 1955 to 2008 and predicted the impact of future tuition fee rises.
It found that increasing the cap on fees to £9,000 could lead to a decrease in the university entrance rate from 2008 by 7.5 per cent for men and 4.9 per cent for women.
Liam Burns, NUS president, said the report showed the government needed to act quickly to boost the bursaries available to students in 2012-13 in a bid to stop them being put off from applying for a place.
“This is a stark warning from a respected source and the government should heed it. The best way the government can try to stop their sky high fees putting off vulnerable students is to make sure more money ends up in students’ pockets when they need it most,” he said.
The report – From Grants to Loans and Fees: The Demand for Post-Compulsory Education in England and Wales from 1955 to 2008 by Peter Dolton and Li Lin – also concludes that the evidence supports the argument that a “less generous student support arrangement deters higher education participation”.
“Specifically, the results suggest a clear negative relationship between the net college costs and university entrance rates for both males and females, as has been found in many studies based on individual data,” it says.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the research had “assumed no changes to grants and loans”, whereas the government was actually “increasing tuition loans and raising maintenance grants, as well as introducing a much more progressive repayment system”.
The spokesman added: “We are keeping student numbers stable over the spending review period and are expecting universities charging more than £6,000 to do more than ever before to seek out students with the most potential.”