6. Ethnicity and religion: Students of Indian origin are 11.7 percentage points less likely to take out maintenance loans compared with otherwise similar students from other ethnic groups. Muslim students are 9.7 percent less likely to take out both tuition fee and maintenance loans. These effects are much smaller and insignificant when accounting for living at home.

In summary

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Understanding who does and does not take out student loans is important because those who manage to study without borrowing enjoy significant advantages both during and after their studies. The financial advantages might spill over to academic achievements and to post-graduation choices and opportunities (e.g. career choices, housing, health…).

But, family wealth remains a significant factor in determining take-up, potentially creating inequalities and social mobility issues. Similarly, gender, ethnicity and religion might impede educational achievements for those deterred by debt. Finally, the role of parental education and living at home in encouraging or inhibiting geographic mobility for higher education might also influence social mobility.

The findings highlight a contradiction between the increased popularity of student loans globally and rising concerns in many countries about equity in higher education. Whether student loans and equity can coexist is yet to be determined.

The research was conducted with the support of the Economic and Social Research Council, the Office for Students and Research England (grant reference ES/M010082/1. We also acknowledge UCL and UK Data Service for providing access to the following dataset: University College London, UCL Institute of Education, Centre for Longitudinal Studies. (2018). Continue reading