One in five students earn less than non-graduates

Students often complain about the high cost of university, but it’s generally accepted that access to the higher-paying careers that a degree offers can justify the investment. However, new research found that one in five students earned less than non-graduates with similar school results.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, who conducted the research, did so using tax data for students from the mid-90’s onwards. Considering both taxes and student loans, for those who attend university, men earn on average £130,000 more, and women £100,000 more than their non-graduate peers, over the course of their careers. Ben Waltmann, a co-author of the report, said: “The exchequer gains a lot on average from higher education, despite the high costs of writing off unpaid student loans. That is mainly because high-earning graduates go on to pay an awful lot of tax.” However, some ministers want to cut back on courses that end up losing the government money due to unpaid loan debt. The report also looked at the variation between courses:

“This analysis also shows that the government makes an overall loss on financing the degrees of nearly half of all graduates. These losses are concentrated amongst those studying certain subjects. For creative arts, for example, the losses are substantial. This need not mean that the government is misallocating funds, but it is important to be aware of the costs involved.”This does not however, take into account the social benefits of higher education, which can be much more difficult to measure. Jo Grady, the general secretary of the UCU, commented on this: “It is vital to recognise that education is about much more than just financial benefit. Focusing on future income following university ignores the wider benefits that education brings to individuals and to society.”

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Henry Webb

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October 2021
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