Poor students are four times less likely to go to university than their better-off counterparts who are more relaxed about incurring debts, according to new research that raises big questions about the government's top-up fees policy, writes Anna Fazackerley.
The research, conducted by Claire Callender, professor of social policy at London's South Bank University, found that prospective students from poor backgrounds had more negative attitudes towards debt than better-off students and were more likely to be put off university because of a fear of going into the red.
Professor Callender said: "If variable fees are introduced and students from low-income families want to go to universities charging Pounds 3,000, some may be deterred by their fear of debt."
The findings follow Professor Callender's research on student support for Universities UK and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. That work was criticised for overlooking factors such as educational attainment.
When she fed prior educational attainment into an analytical model, the specific deterrent effect of debt was even clearer.
She said: "Anti-debt attitudes cannot be argued away by saying they are just part of a broader negative cultural orientation towards going into higher education."
Professor Callender said the typical student who would bypass higher education was a white male from a lower social class whose mother had not been to university, who feared debt and who did not see university as worth while.