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This is how much your degree will earn you in 10 years

Around a quarter of degrees in the UK will not give students high enough post-education earnings to justify their cost, according to new research.

clock and twenty pound notes

This article was published in 2019, but the figures should still be largely accurate.

A report has found that too many prospective students are being sold a 'false dream' when it comes to the degrees they enrol on.

The report, produced by centre-right think tank Onward, said 40% of undergraduates are doing degrees which, after five years, lead to median earnings which fall below what was the loan repayment threshold at the time (£25,000 – it's now £27,295).

Now ministers are being urged to cull places on these courses and increase the number of spots available on technical courses (which often have better employment rates and earnings potential).

The long term earning potential of degrees

SubjectsOne year after gradThree years after gradFive years after gradTen years after grad
Medicine & Dentistry£36,000£42,800£47,300£55,100
Mathematical Sciences£22,500£28,000£33,100£40,300
Engineering & Technology£25,100£29,500£32,600£40,000
Architecture, Building & Planning£23,200£28,600£30,900£36,600
Veterinary Science£28,300£32,400£34,900£36,000
Computer Science£21,100£25,200£27,800£34,200
Physical Sciences£19,600£23,800£27,100£32,800
Business & Administrative Studies£19,400£23,400£26,800£32,200
Languages (excluding English Studies)£19,300£24,100£27,400£31,000
Biological Sciences (excluding Psychology)£16,200£21,100£24,500£30,700
Subjects Allied to Medicine (excluding Nursing)£21,000£24,400£26,400£29,600
Historical & Philosophical Studies£17,400£22,200£25,400£29,300
Social Studies (excluding Economics)£18,000£21,800£24,500£28,900
English Studies£16,300£21,400£24,000£27,900
Mass Communications & Documentation£15,900£19,700£22,800£27,300
Agriculture & Related Subjects£16,500£19,100£20,500£24,300
Creative Arts & Design£14,300£17,800£20,200£23,200

Students often take on the debt of university because they believe it will be worth it in the long run, and lead to them getting a better job.

In the past, however, MPs have said university graduates aren't getting a good enough return on their degrees. Despite the £9,250 per year tuition fees on most courses, over 80% of graduates will never earn enough to pay the full loan back.

The Student Loan repayment system is changing for students who start university from 2023, which means more graduates will pay off their loans in full.

And with the average debt after an undergraduate degree now £50,000, some degrees are looking pretty expensive considering the earning potential.

The table above, taken from Onward's report and formed using LEO Graduate outcomes data, shows that the arts and more creative subjects lead to lower financial rewards no matter what the timescale.

In contrast, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees lead to higher earnings, both in the short and long term.

The report also revealed that 10% of students are studying for degrees that, even after 10 years, will lead to median earnings of less than £25,000 – the threshold for repaying your Student Loan at the time the study was published.

In other words, 134,000 graduates a year won't start paying their Student Loan back even ten years after accepting their degree certificate.

What else did the report find?

man behind laptop

The think tank's report acknowledges that "education has a value in its own right" and "earning a living is not the only reason people study".

However, it says this doesn't remove the problem that too many people "are being sold on a false promise".

Before you get a degree it can be really easy to assume you'll find your dream job upon graduation, but this simply isn't true in most cases.

Indeed, the report found that in the 2015/16 academic year, between 18% – 25% of undergraduates were doing degrees that would fail to deliver a lifetime earnings premium (how much extra you'll earn with a degree compared to someone without one) or justify the average student debt.

What's more, 20% of students are no better off five years after graduation than if they had decided to opt for an alternative to university, like an apprenticeship.

How should the government respond?

The salary premium graduates can expect from doing a degree has nearly halved over the past 10 years, despite tuition fees and living costs increasing.

The report suggested that repayments on Student Loans are halved through the introduction of tax cuts for graduates, worth 50p in every pound owed.

However, the government recently announced that the Student Loan repayment system is changing. For students in England and Wales who start university in 2023 or later, the repayment threshold will drop and the number of years before the loan is written off will increase. This means that lower-earning graduates will end up repaying a lot more of their loans.

When it was published a few years ago, Onward's report argued that courses offering the lowest earning potential 10 years after graduation should have their number of places lowered. Onward also suggested that the number of people in post-18 technical education needs to increase, as they believe it is unfairly seen as the "ugly duckling" of British education.

Tory MP, Neil O'Brien, said to the BBC:

Too many students are being effectively missold a university education.

[There is] a substantial minority who don't earn much but get left with big debts. We should steer people away from courses that don't lead to good outcomes.

The suggestions are fairly radical. What about the people who want to study the degrees that 'don't earn enough' because they have an interest in the subject? Is it really appropriate to assess the value of a university education solely on earning potential?

Want a more detailed breakdown of graduate salaries? We've listed the average graduate earnings for every subject.


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