A DEGREE can expand the wallet as well as the mind - especially for women. New government-funded research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies has found women graduates earn 35 per cent more because of their degree. They are also significantly more likely to be in paid employment by the age of 33 than non-graduates.
Male graduates can expect to earn 15 per cent more, on average, than men with just A levels.
The study, which examines a sample of British men and women with A levels born in March 1958, could boost calls for students to contribute more to their tuition.
The authors conclude: "If today's graduates will be able to secure similar returns, then it may be deemed feasible to expect future graduates to contribute a larger share of the costs of higher education themselves."
But students disagree saying the prospect of paying for tuition could discourage A level students from continuing their education. A spokesman for the National Union of Students said: "It's good news about graduate pay which is why we encourage as many people as possible to go to higher education. But students have already accepted that they must pay for maintenance over a period of time. Paying for fees or extra taxation when they leave will cripple their finances."
The study found the higher the degree the greater the mark-up in earnings for women.
Researchers found hourly wages were 26 per cent higher for women with non-degree higher education qualifications than the A level-only group: 39 per cent higher for those with a first degree and 43 per cent higher for those with a higher degree.
The difference was less for male earnings which were respectively 15 per cent, 21 per cent and 16 per cent higher.
It was also clear that a degree helped close the gap between male and female earnings. While women graduates earned 23 per cent less than men with degrees, the gap was 43 per cent among non-graduates.
Mature students did considerably better than those who had never graduated. Although they earned less than those who had gone straight into higher education before they were 21, they were still much better off than those who had no higher education qualifications at all.
But the study showed that higher education was not the answer for everyone. Professional or managerial posts, generally regarded as graduate jobs, tended to pay better both for those with higher education qualifications and those without.
And worst off were people who had entered higher education but failed to obtain any qualification.
The study uses data from the National Child Development Survey, which surveys all individuals born in Britain between March 3 and 9 1958. It focuses on those with at least one A level, and therefore eligible for university.