Graduate salaries vary much more according to the university a student attended in disciplines such as economics, business studies and law than in humanities subjects, new statistics reveal.
The Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, released by the UK’s Department for Education, pinpoints for every subject area which universities produce the highest-earning graduates after they have been in the labour market for five years.
Unsurprisingly, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge repeatedly figure at the top of the lists, which are based on tax data. However, attending a more selective university carries much more of an advantage in some subjects than others.
For example, the median salary after five years for a Cambridge graduate who left in 2008-09 after studying an economics subject was £61,000, the highest in the sector, while the lowest median salary for economics was £18,100 for someone who went to the University of East London.
But another popular subject such as English shows a much smaller spread: the highest median salary after five years was again earned by a Cambridge graduate, but was lower at £31,000; while the lowest, £13,300, was recorded for a graduate attending the University of St Mark and St John.
Highest median salaries after five years
|Agriculture and related subjects||Imperial College London||29,800|
|Architecture building and planning||Anglia Ruskin University||39,500|
|Biological sciences||University of Cambridge||36,600|
|Business and administrative studies||University of Oxford||71,700|
|Computer science||Imperial College London||51,800|
|Creative arts and design||Bournemouth University||27,600|
|Economics||University of Cambridge||61,000|
|Education||Brunel University London||35,400|
|Engineering and technology||University of Aberdeen||49,000|
|English studies||University of Cambridge||31,000|
|Historical and philosophical studies||London School of Economics||42,200|
|Languages (excluding English studies)||University of Cambridge||36,100|
|Law||University of Oxford||61,400|
|Mass communications and documentation||Loughborough University||33,700|
|Mathematical sciences||University of Oxford||49,900|
|Medicine and Dentistry||University of Glasgow||49,200|
|Nursing||University of Portsmouth||35,500|
|Physical sciences||Imperial College London||38,500|
|Psychology||University of Oxford||37,100|
|Social studies (excluding economics)||University of Oxford||38,600|
|Subjects allied to medicine (excluding nursing)||Queen Mary University of London||46,000|
|Veterinary science||University of Bristol||36,600|
Note: graduating cohort 2008-09, male and female graduates
Lowest median salaries after five years
|Agriculture and related subjects||University of Salford||14,800|
|Architecture building and planning||University of Huddersfield||20,500|
|Biological sciences||Wrexham Glyndŵr University||16,800|
|Business and administrative studies||University of Wolverhampton||19,400|
|Computer science||University of Cumbria||19,800|
|Creative arts and design||Conservatoire for Dance and Drama||10,000|
|Economics||University of East London||18,100|
|Education||University of Manchester||16,500|
|Engineering and technology||Bath Spa University||19,300|
|English studies||University of St Mark and St John||13,300|
|Historical and philosophical studies||University Campus Suffolk||13,000|
|Languages (excluding English studies)||University of Salford||16,700|
|Law||University of Bradford||17,300|
|Mass communications and documentation||Bangor University||15,500|
|Mathematical sciences||University of South Wales||19,100|
|Medicine and Dentistry||University of St Andrews||40,300|
|Nursing||University of Liverpool||23,900|
|Physical sciences||University of Wales Trinity Saint David||16,700|
|Psychology||University Campus Suffolk||15,500|
|Social studies (excluding economics)||University of the Highlands and Islands||16,300|
|Subjects allied to medicine (excluding nursing)||University of South Wales||10,000|
|Veterinary science||University of Glasgow||33,900|
Note: graduating cohort 2008-09, male and female graduates
The data are also cross-referenced with students’ entry grades to show where prior attainment at school correlates the most with the future earnings of graduates.
Subjects such as business studies and law appear to show the closest link between the grades that students enter university with and their salaries five years after graduating. But there also seem to be similar strong correlations at the top end of the salary range for some humanities subjects such as history or English.
There appears to be no correlation whatsoever between entry grades and later earnings for those who studied creative arts subjects: in some cases graduates who attended universities with low entry tariffs went on to earn just as much as those who entered institutions accepting those with the top grades.
The difference between the universities producing the highest- and lowest-earning graduates in creative arts subjects after five years is also much smaller than in other subjects: the highest median salary was £27,600 (Bournemouth University) and the lowest £10,000 (Conservatoire for Dance and Drama).
Other subjects – most notably some science disciplines – show that there are a number of less selective universities whose graduates go on to earn towards the higher end of the salary scale after five years, and conversely selective institutions with graduates earning a lot less.
In engineering and technology, for instance, Bournemouth University graduates earned almost £40,000 at the median after five years, while at the University of Sussex the median salary was under £30,000.
Other examples include biological sciences, where the median salary for graduates from the University of Sheffield was £23,600, less than the median for those who attended the University of Chichester, who earned £24,800 after five years. And in history and philosophy subjects, the median salary for a graduate from Lancaster University was £22,500, less than graduates who went to Edge Hill University (£24,100) or London Metropolitan University (£23,100).
Anna Vignoles, professor of education at the University of Cambridge, said that, although the data highlighted that graduate earnings were strongly linked to other factors such as prior attainment, they would still be helpful in guiding students in their choices.
“I think it is useful, not least in enabling us to understand that our system, rightly or wrongly, is pretty much a hierarchical HE system where people with the highest level of prior attainment…go on to get the highest level of earnings.
“We can worry about that and critique that but, from the students’ perspective, it is important to know that.”
Professor Vignoles also pointed out that the raw LEO data needed to be treated with caution in many respects. For example, they do not contain earnings data on those who were self-employed, a much more likely mode of employment for creative arts graduates.
Nevertheless, she said the policy implications were still important, not so much in terms of revealing the universities where graduates earn the most or the least, but for pinpointing the best way to help high-achieving students from poorer backgrounds.
“If we are serious about social mobility then of course students with high A-level grades must get to some of these [more selective] institutions,” she said.
Responding to the data, Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said that “graduate salaries are not the only measure of success in higher education” and added that “many students seek rewarding careers where high salaries are not their only motivation”.