German graduates earn the highest salaries in Europe, according to the largest ever survey of graduates in 12 countries.
The survey, which questioned those who graduated in 1995, found that Germans earned an average gross of euros 39,800 (£23,700) a year. This is more than double that of Spanish graduates, who are Europe's lowest paid at euros 16,900. British graduates are Europe's fifth highest earners with euros 31,800 a year.
The survey found that European graduates have rarely enjoyed better job opportunities. No more than 2 per cent in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark were unemployed.
Higher unemployment rates in Austria (7 per cent), France (7 per cent), Italy (10 per cent) and Spain (19 per cent) were still better than for those without degrees.
Graduates in all European countries surveyed spent on average less than a year searching for a job. Norwegians were the quickest, finding employment on average 3.3 months after graduation. The British were second fastest at 4.4 months.
The Norwegians were also most satisfied with their careers. Some 78 per cent claimed to be satisfied with their professional development.
British graduates were among the least contented. Just 57 per cent of them were happy with their professional position.
German computer science graduates are the labour aristocracy of Europe: they earned euros 96,000 a year in 1999 for an average 48-hour week.
Ulrich Teichler, head of the Centre for Research on Higher Education and Work at Kassel University in Germany where the survey was coordinated, said: "Germans appear to earn more because they tend to be older when they graduate, on average 28 compared with 23 in Britain, and a higher proportion have studied to a higher level than a bachelor degree."
He added that the survey does not take account of differences in purchasing power or taxation rates between the countries or fluctuating exchange rates.
But Professor Teichler predicted a first degree would become less important in determining income and status: "It is quite likely that a bachelor-style degree will come to be seen as the bare necessity as higher education opens up to more people."