Research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that graduates from wealthier family backgrounds earn significantly more than those from poorer backgrounds. If you compare the 20% of graduates from the richest backgrounds with the remaining 80%, the average earnings gap in 2012/13, 10 years after graduation, was £8000 per year for men and £5300 for women. Even when you take graduates in similar degrees from similar universities, there is still a gap of around 10% between those from richer and those from poorer backgrounds.
The research also shows that in 2012/13, 10 years after graduation, the median earnings for economics graduates was the second highest of any subject (just behind graduates in medicine) and that at the 90th percentile economics graduates had the highest earnings (£93 900 for women and £121 400 for men) of any subject. In fact, graduates in economics were the only males at this percentile earning over £100 000. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) As the Press Release to the IFS working paper states:
For males, it is estimated that approximately 12% of economics graduates earned above £100 000 some ten years after graduation; by contrast, 6% of those studying medicine or law earned more than £100 000.
For females, it is estimated that approximately 9% of economics graduates earned above £100 000 some ten years after graduation; by contrast, just 1% of those studying medicine and 3% of those studying law did so.
For some subjects, graduates earned little more than non-graduates.
Those studying the creative arts had the lowest earnings, and indeed earned no more on average than non-graduates.
The research also shows that earnings vary substantially by gender and university. For those earning £8000 or more, the median earnings for male graduates 10 years after graduation was £30 000 (compared with £21 000 for non-graduates), whereas for women it was £27 000 (compared with £18 000 for non-graduates).
Earnings are substantially higher for graduates from some universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge and the LSE. “At the other end of the spectrum, there were some institutions (23 for men and 9 for women) where the median graduate earnings were less than those of the median non-graduate ten years on.” Differences in graduate earnings by university tend to compound the difference by students’ family background as those from poorer backgrounds disproportionately attend universities with lower average graduate earnings by discipline.
The following articles consider the findings and their implications for higher education policy
Graduates from wealthy backgrounds reap earnings benefits Times Higher Education, John Morgan (13/4/16)
Graduate Earnings Guided By Parents’ Wealth, Institute For Fiscal Studies Report Finds Huffington Post, George Bowden (13/4/16)
Graduates from poorer backgrounds earn less than richer peers on same course, major international study finds Independent. Oliver Wright (13/4/16)
Richer students have higher graduate income, study finds The Guardian (13/4/16)
Want a Higher Salary? It Helps If You’re a Man With Rich Parents Bloomberg, Robert Hutton (13/4/16)
Economics graduates are in the money Why Study Economics? Economics in Action blog (15/4/16)
What and where you study matter for graduate earnings – but so does parents’ income IFS Press Release (13/4/16)
How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background IFS Working Paper W16/06, Jack Britton, Lorraine Dearden, Neil Shephard and Anna Vignoles (13/4/16)
Free Online Statistics – Students & qualifiers Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)
Applications and acceptances for types of higher education course – 2015 UCAS
What do graduates do? Higher Education Careers Services Unit
- For what reasons are graduates from rich backgrounds likely to earn substantially more than graduates from poor backgrounds?
- Why are graduates in economics likely to earn more than graduates in other subjects, especially those in the top percentile of earners from any given subject?
- How might marginal productivity help to explain the differences in earnings of different graduates?
- What are meant by ‘soft skills’. Why may students from richer backgrounds have better soft skills in the context of (a) university admission and (b) getting a job on graduation?
- Why are female graduates likely to earn less than male graduates with the same class of degree in the same subject?
- What could be done by (a) universities and (b) the government to increase social mobility?
- Do you think that the findings of the research have implications for the way students’ study is funded? Explain.
The Labour government’s investment in education has been widely publicised since its rise to power in 1997 and there has been a significant increase in funding to match its ‘50% participation in higher education’ target. However, at the university level, this looks set to change. More than 100 universities face a drop in their government grants as a consequence of £450 million worth of cuts. 69 universities face cuts in cash terms and another 37 have rises below 2 per cent. Furthermore, increased funding is now going to those departments where research is of the highest quality, which means that whilst some universities will not see a cut in funding, they will see a reallocation of their funds.
Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of Hefce, said: “These are very modest reductions. I think it is quite likely that universities will be able to cope with these without in any way undermining the student experience.” Despite this reassurance, there are concerns that, with these spending cuts and growing student numbers, class sizes will have to increase, the quality of the education may fall and ultimately, it may mean a reduction in the number of places offered. The Conservatives have estimated that 275,000 students will miss out on a place. UCAS applications have grown by 23% – or 106,389 – so far this year, but the number of places has been reduced by 6000. This policy of cutting places is clearly contrary to the government’s target of 50% participation.
With the average degree costing students over £9000, it is hardly surprising that students are unhappy with these spending cuts and the fact that it could lead to a lower quality education. With the possibility of rising fees (in particular, as advocated by Lord Patten, who has called for the abolition of a “preposterous” £3,200 cap on student tuition fees) and a lower quality degree, this means that students could end up paying a very high price for a university education.
Universities fear research funding cuts Financial Times (18/3/10)
More students but who will pay? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
University cuts announced as recession bites Reuters (18/3/10)
How about $200,000 dollars for a degree? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
Liberate our universities Telegraph (17/3/10)
Universities should set own fees, say Oxford Chancellor Patten Independent, Richard Garner (17/3/10)
University budgets to be slashed by up to 14% Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (18/3/10)
Universities face cuts as Hefce deals with first funding drop in years RSC, Chemistry World (17/3/10)
University cuts spell campus turmoil BBC News, Hannah Richardson (18/3/10)
Universities told of funding cuts Press Association (18/3/10)
100 universities suffer as government announces £450 million of cuts Times Online, Greg Hurst (18/3/10)
HEFCE announces funding of £7.3 billion for universities and colleges in England HEFCE News (18/3/10)
- Why is there justification for government intervention in higher education? Think about the issues of efficiency and equity and why the market for education fails.
- What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against allowing universities to set their own tuition fees?
- Why is the government planning these substantial cuts to university funding, when it is still trying to increase the number of students getting places at university?
- Is the ‘50% participation in higher education’ a good policy?
- What are the benefits of education? Think about those accruing to the individual and those gained by society. Can you use this to explain why the government has role in intervening in the market for higher education?
- Is it right that more spending should go to those departments with higher quality research? What are the arguments for and against this policy?
- What are the costs to a student of a university education and how will they change with funding cuts and possibly higher tuition fees?
For some time now, education has been a top priority for the government. They have been tackling standards in schools and have a target of a 50% participation rate in higher education. Most people agree that school education should be free, but opinion is divided when it comes to higher education. Is the return to the individual greater than that to society or vice versa? Is it the same for all degrees? This is one of the questions that affects funding. Should the individual pay? Or the government? Or should there be a mixture of funding?
The question of university education has become even more of an issue in the current recession, with many seeing a university education as a way of avoiding, what could be, inevitable unemployment. With this increase in demand, there is increasing pressure on the funding: it is simply not fiscally feasible to fund everyone’s university education. As such, business leaders have advised a rise in tuition fees. Students could be charged thousands more and made to face a higher interest rate on any loans. This highly contentious issue is considered in the articles below.
Charge students more, say bosses BBC News (21/9/09)
Middle class university students ‘should pay more’ Telegraph (21/9/09)
Elite universities plan to cut UK student numbers amid funding drop Telegraph (20/9/09)
Fee rise must aid poor students BBC News (27/7/09)
Loans delay for 150,000 students continues Daily Mail (19/9/09)
‘No fee degrees’ university plan BBC News (8/7/09)
‘New market’ in education (podcast) BBC Today Programme (8/7/09)
Bring back tuition fees for middle class students Scotsman (11/9/09)
CBI advises raising university fees to £5,000 a year to tackle funding crisis Guardian (21/9/09)
University ‘way out of recession’ BBC News (8/9/09)
Schools secretary Ed Balls under fire over education cuts Mirror (21/9/09)
Students should pay more – CBI (video) BBC News (21/9/09)
- Why is education described as a merit good? Explain the characteristics and why it constitutes a market failure.
- Identify any externalities involved in higher education. Do they imply that the free market would led to a level of higher education that is above or below the social optimum?
- List the costs to society of a university education. (Think about opportunity cost).
- What are the arguments for (a) only the individual funding their university education (b) the government funding university education (c) a combination of both?
- Is it a reasonable policy to increase university fees? If so, should students receive loans to cover this increase? If not, what do you think is an alternative option to help this funding crisis?