university is an excellent investment for women

Women are much more likely than men to get an increase in earnings from going to university, says an analysis of salaries at the age of 29.

The study, from the Department for Education and Institute for Fiscal Studies, says women with a degree earn 28 per cent more than non-graduate women. Men with degrees earn an average of 8 per cent more than non-graduates. But almost a third of male graduates went to a university likely to give them a negligible earnings advantage.

The report, based on tax records of people who went to school in England and then went to university in England, Wales or Scotland, shows a woman who has a degree earns £6,700 more per year, on average, than a non-graduate woman. But a male graduate earns £2,700, on average, more than a man without a degree.

The greater benefits of a degree for women reflect the relatively lower earnings of non-graduate women. This can reflect that non-graduate women are more likely to be in low-paid work.
But another factor, says the report, is that women who do not go to university are more likely have children earlier than graduates – and on average are more likely to be working part-time in their twenties. Women in their twenties without degrees are twice as likely to be working part-time compared with their graduate counterparts.So the big gains for women described in the report can be comparisons between full-time graduate earnings and those non-graduates working part-time.

For men, the financial gains of a degree are much less certain. And 33 per cent of male graduates went to a university in which there was a negligible or negative impact on earnings compared with those without a degree. These figures have been adjusted to take into account the background of students and previous academic achievement – making it a like-for-like comparison.

The report comes as a review is examining the future of tuition fees in England – with suggestions that fees of £9,250 per year and average loans debts of £50,000 are to be reduced. But the report shows that apart from gender, the type of university and subject have a significant influence on future income. Medicine, economics, maths and science are likely to deliver higher earnings.
But studying art, English and philosophy, particularly for men, can leave graduates on average earning lower than those who did not go to university.

Going to a Russell Group university is usually linked to increased earnings – but the data suggests that this is not always the case. These factors can combine to increase or decrease earnings – so that women taking medicine can earn 75 per cent more than female non-graduates, while men taking an arts degree have likely earnings 14 per cent below male non-graduates. The graduates least likely to be high earners are the men who have studied an arts degree at a modern university.

The figures are a snapshot of the position at the age of 29 – and they do not show what might happen next, which could include women’s earnings being affected by having children and male graduates pulling further ahead of non-graduates.

Jack Britton, co-author of the report, says,

The study shows university is an excellent investment for women. For men,  Its important to bear in mind that returns are likely to grow quickly later in life since graduates tend to see faster pay growth than non-graduates

The Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, said it was important that there was transparency of information for applicants to university. He comments that,

This shines a light on where good quality degrees are – and what we want to do is crack down on those courses that are not delivering value. It is also clear from the analysis that there are a clutch of courses at certain universities which are not delivering the financial outcomes for students, What I want to see is universities competing to offer the best quality and value for money degrees to our young people.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said that,

The research shows that for the vast majority of students there are clear financial benefits of getting a degree But some universities will need to ask themselves tough questions about how well they are preparing students for life after graduation.

Sheila Flavell, COO at FDM Group and Chair of the Institute of Coding comments,

These figures underline the fact that the gender pay gap is more than just a HR issue. A university education is supposed to lead to a better starting salary and yet women graduates find themselves earning little more than men who have not taken degree-level qualifications. Businesses need to wake up to this reality and recognise that much more needs to be done to tackle this issue, including reviewing graduate salaries and training programmes to ensure women get the best start in the world of work.


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Aphrodite is a creative writer and editor specialising in publishing and communications. She is passionate about undertaking projects in diverse sectors. She has written and edited copy for media as varied as social enterprise, art, fashion and education. She is at her most happy owning a project from its very conception, focusing on the client and project research in the first instance, and working closely with CEOs and Directors throughout the consultation process. Much of her work has focused on rebranding; messaging and tone of voice is one of her expertise, as is a distinctively unique writing style in my most of her creative projects. Her work is always driven by the versatility of language to galvanise image and to change perception, as it is by inspiring and being inspired by the wondrous diversity of people with whom paths she crosses cross!

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