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The impact of tuition fees and support on university participation in the UK


  • Lorraine Dearden

    () (Institute for Fiscal Studies and Department of Social Science, University College London)

  • Emla Fitzsimons

    () (Institute for Fiscal Studies and Institute of Education, University of London)

  • Gill Wyness

    () (Institute for Fiscal Studies)


Understanding how policy can affect university participation is important for understanding how governments can promote human capital accumulation. In this paper, we estimate the separate impacts of tuition fees and maintenance grants on the decision to enter university in the UK. We use Labour Force Survey data covering 1992-2007, a period of important variation in higher education finance, which saw the introduction of up-front tuition fees and the abolition of maintenance grants in 1998, followed some eight years later by a shift to higher deferred fees and the reinstatement of maintenance grants. We create a pseudo-panel of university participation of cohorts defined by sex, region of residence and family background, and estimate a number of different specifications on these aggregated data. Our findings show that tuition fees have had a significant negative effect on participation, with a £1,000 increase in fees resulting in a decrease in participation of 3.9 percentage points, which equates to an elasticity of -0.14. Non-repayable support in the form of maintenance grants has had a positive effect on participation, with a £1,000 increase in grants resulting in a 2.6 percentage point increase in participation, which equates to an elasticity of 0.18. These findings are comparable to, but of a slightly lower magnitude than, those in the related US literature.

Suggested Citation

  • Lorraine Dearden & Emla Fitzsimons & Gill Wyness, 2011. "The impact of tuition fees and support on university participation in the UK," IFS Working Papers W11/17, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  • Handle: RePEc:ifs:ifsewp:11/17

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dearden, Lorraine & Machin, Stephen & Reed, Howard, 1997. "Intergenerational Mobility in Britain," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(440), pages 47-66, January.
    2. Dynarski, Susan, 2000. "Hope for Whom? Financial Aid for the Middle Class and Its Impact on College Attendance," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 53(3), pages 629-662, September.
    3. Verbeek, Marno & Vella, Francis, 2005. "Estimating dynamic models from repeated cross-sections," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 127(1), pages 83-102, July.
    4. Neil S. Seftor & NSarah E. Turner, 2002. "Back to School: Federal Student Aid Policy and Adult College Enrollment," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(2), pages 336-352.
    5. Thomas J. Kane, 1995. "Rising Public College Tuition and College Entry: How Well Do Public Subsidies Promote Access to College?," NBER Working Papers 5164, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Haroon Chowdry & Claire Crawford & Lorraine Dearden & Alissa Goodman & Anna Vignoles, 2013. "Widening participation in higher education: analysis using linked administrative data," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 176(2), pages 431-457, February.
    7. Jo Blanden & Stephen Machin, 2013. "Educational Inequality and The Expansion of UK Higher Education," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 60(5), pages 578-596, November.
    8. Deaton, Angus, 1985. "Panel data from time series of cross-sections," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1-2), pages 109-126.
    9. Jo Blanden & Paul Gregg & Stephen Machin, 2003. "Changes in Educational Inequality," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 03/079, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
    10. Susan M. Dynarski, 2003. "Does Aid Matter? Measuring the Effect of Student Aid on College Attendance and Completion," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 279-288, March.
    11. Carneiro, Pedro & Heckman, James J., 2003. "Human Capital Policy," IZA Discussion Papers 821, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    12. Lorraine Dearden & Emla Fitzsimons & Alissa Goodman & Greg Kaplan, 2008. "Higher Education Funding Reforms in England: The Distributional Effects and the Shifting Balance of Costs," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(526), pages 100-125, February.
    13. Jo Blanden & Stephen Machin, 2008. "Up and Down the Generational Income Ladder in Britain: Past Changes and Future Prospects," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 205(1), pages 101-116, July.
    14. Hemelt, Steven W. & Marcotte, Dave E., 2008. "Rising Tuition and Enrollment in Public Higher Education," IZA Discussion Papers 3827, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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    Cited by:

    1. Matt Dickson, 2013. "The Causal Effect of Education on Wages Revisited," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 75(4), pages 477-498, August.
    2. Marina Della Giusta & Antonia Fernandez & Sarah Jewell, 2017. "Happy at University? Student Well-being and the Value of Higher Education," Economics & Management Discussion Papers em-dp2017-01, Henley Business School, Reading University.
    3. Bruckmeier, Kerstin & Wigger, Berthold U., 2014. "The effects of tuition fees on transition from high school to university in Germany," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 14-23.
    4. Arnaud Chevalier & Xiaoxuan Jia, 2016. "Subject-Specific League Tables and Students' Application Decisions," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 84(5), pages 600-620, September.
    5. José García-Montalvo, 2018. "The Impact of Progressive Tuition Fees on Dropping Out of Higher Education: A Regression Discontinuity Design," Working Papers 1017, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.

    More about this item


    university participation; higher education funding policies; tuition fees; maintenance grants; pseudo-panel;

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy

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