Data from the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) has informed a harrowing statistic for the United Kingdom’s higher education sector, as roughly one out of three university graduates earns a salary of just £20,000 ten years after receiving a degree.
The news comes at a time of intense debate over both the cost and the value of higher education in the UK. Both enrollment numbers and costs have continued to rise over the last decade as more Britons and international students choose to pursue a degree.
The LEO shows that after graduation, the lowest quintile earned an average of £11,500 annually. That rose to ~£16,500 after three years and grew to £20,000 after ten years.
The average graduate fairs somewhat better, with a newly-minted degree holder earning £16,500 after finishing. Three years later, the average graduate earned £22,000, which rose to £31,000 a decade after completing the degree. The average salary in Britain is roughly £26,500.
Alice Marks of the University Herald reports that the numbers reinforce questions about the cost-benefit of pursuing higher education. She quoted Alice Barnard, CEO of the Edge Foundation, who pointed out the increasing opportunity cost of a degree and the lackluster realities too many graduates are facing in the job market:
“Immediately after graduation, many graduates are either in jobs that didn’t require a degree or didn’t require the level of education they had got themselves to. They have invested not only time, energy and effort but also quite a lot of money and potentially come out the other side without the jobs they perhaps expected to get.”
The tuition cap was nearly trebled in 2012 as the government allowed universities to charge as much as £9,000 for tuition. That cap has recently been increased further to £9,250 to account for inflation — and with that increase has come additional questions about whether higher education is the optimal path for all who are qualified.
The unimpressive earnings numbers fall in line with a report from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) that shows 28% of recent graduates have not yet begun to repay their student loans. The repayment threshold currently stands at £20,000.
A report from The Sutton Trust in May showed that graduates from the United Kingdom have the highest levels of student loan debt in the English-speaking world. The average UK graduate’s debt of £44,000 comes in well behind the United States (£20,500), New Zealand (£23,000), Australia (£21,000), and Canada (£15,000).
More universities have also turned to creative marketing to convince students to enrol, with some offering ‘buy one, get one free’ tracks that include a Master’s degree and others sweetening their offers with iPads and football tickets.
Jamie Doward and Rebecca Ratcliffe of The Guardian write that enrolment numbers may have seen their peak, as the population of young people in Britain have declined by 2.2%:
“On the domestic front, this year has seen a 2.2% drop in the overall number of 18-year-olds in the UK, a decline that is expected to last several years. While this has not yet translated into a shortfall in teenagers applying for university places, Ucas reports that this year there has been a 5% decrease in applications from those aged 20-24.”
Prime Minister Theresa May and her cabinet have ambitious plans to increase the international competitiveness of the UK’s higher education sector, but they have said little so far to address the value, both real and perceived, of a university degree.