Is university worth the money?
New government study examines whether the average UK student benefits economically from higher education
Tuition fee hikes have triggered questions about whether getting a university degree still pays off but now new research appears to confirm that it does - for female graduates, at least.
As the Government prepares to publish a review of higher education funding in 2019, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has released the results of an analysis of the tax records of UK graduates now aged 29.
Overall, the review found that workers with a degree were earning more than those without by that age, but that there was a big difference based on gender, says The Independent.
According to the report, female graduates earn 28% more (£6,700) on average than their female peers who did not go to university, while men earn 8% (£2,700) more.
Report co-author Chris Belfield, a research economist at the IFS, said: “Overall, women have lower earnings growth than men. So the [economic] returns for a woman in going to university are relatively bigger than they are for men.”
Or to put it another way, “the greater benefits of a degree for women reflect the relatively lower earnings of non-graduate women - they are more likely to be in part-time, rather than full-time, work and might be in lower-paid jobs”, adds the BBC.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times points out that going to university actually has a “negligible or negative impact” for 33% of male graduates.
The institution attended and subject studied are important factors when it comes to future earnings. “Medicine, economics, maths and science are likely to deliver higher earnings,” says the BBC. “But studying art, English and philosophy, particularly for men, can leave graduates on average earning lower than those who did not go to university.”
A degree from a Russell Group university was found to be worth more for future earnings than modern universities, although graduates from at least one unnamed leading institution were left with salaries no higher than their non-graduate counterparts.
Universities Minister Sam Gyimah says that the Government wants to “crack down” on the “clutch of courses at certain universities which are not delivering the financial outcomes for students”.
“Where this leads us to is to have a relentless focus on quality,” he added.
However, a spokesperson for the National Union of Students (NUS) warned against focusing only on the economic returns of attending university.
“There is a danger that, amidst calls for greater transparency in how fee income is spent, the ‘value’ of a degree is reduced to solely individual financial outcomes. It risks reflecting the other substantial benefits that a university education can give to both the student and society,” the spokesperson explained.
The cut-off in the research at age 29 “is also likely to have skewed results, since for many former students the biggest salary increases come after the age of 30”, says the FT.