Who are the biggest winners/losers from degrees?

New stats from the IFS and DfE were revealed last week about graduate earnings, and who came out on top. Going to university itself has some elements from both sides: students are ‘winners’ in that they (hopefully) get a degree, but also can be seen as ‘losers’ by being subject to a huge amount of debt, stress and, sometimes, lack of satisfaction (you can’t blame them for asking whether it’s all worth it). However, the majority of graduates don’t end up paying back their full student loan which, as this repayment is based on your earnings, indicates that in fact getting a degree doesn’t automatically increase your earnings by a significant amount. What are the best and worst courses and universities when it comes to getting the most out of your money, and what changes can be made to narrow the differences between them?

There has been strong evidence that suggests female graduates are at a significant advantage at the end of their studies, with the average woman earning 28% more per year than a non-graduate woman (IFS and Department for Education 2018). There is no hiding the fact that this is a considerable difference, but looking at the wider picture, this may be due to the reasons why some women in their twenties didn’t go to university; for example, if they already have families and can only commit to part-time or low-skilled work. Earning on average £6,700 more a year than a non-graduate, the average female graduate has had a high incentive to go to university and knows she can reap the benefits.

In contrast to this, the average male graduate earns an average of only £2,700 more than non-graduates – that’s a third of them who are earning an insignificant amount more than non-graduates. This finding raises the question of how valuable certain courses are to male students, and are they really worth the cost?

Course wise, there is no doubt that industry-specific courses such as Medicine, Law and Dentistry see the most significant differences in the earnings. Creative subjects such as English and Media are at the other end of the spectrum, and male students studying these courses can actually expect to earn 14% less than non-graduates.

Moreover, the type of university can also expect to have an impact on its students’ future earnings, with Russell Group universities and those at the higher end of the League Tables (such as London establishments, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge) positively affecting their graduates’ salaries. Unfortunately, there are a few universities associated with having a less than 2% predicted increase in earnings for its male graduates, with arts universities being at the forefront of this.

So, in conclusion, the research suggests that the biggest winners are females and graduates who studied STEM subjects like Economics, Medicine and Law at prestige and well-reputed universities. The other side of the scale falls with male students and those studying more creative subjects at less reputable and well-known universities.

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