Studying for an arts degree in future may cost men more than the lifetime salary gain they will accrue from being a graduate, according to research, writes Paul Hill.
A study published this week in the National Institute Economic Review concludes that there is a "strong argument" for tuition fees to be varied between courses to reflect the financial rewards graduates gain from different disciplines.
Nigel O'Leary of the University of Wales, Swansea, and Peter Sloane of Aberdeen University, predict that, overall, graduates will continue to earn a substantial pay premium compared with non-graduates, despite the introduction next year of variable fees.
A male arts graduate could expect to earn £22,458 more than a male non-graduate over his lifetime.
But this is less than the estimated £34,000 cost in fees and three years' forgone earnings, the report says. But men with a maths or computing degree could expect to benefit from a graduate premium of £222,419.
Professor Sloane and Dr O'Leary also say that female graduates are likely to earn a higher premium than their male counterparts. A female arts graduate would boost her lifetime earnings by £113,185 and one with a degree in education by £244,740.
The researchers conclude that overall male graduates earn a 9 per cent annual salary gain and women a 13 per cent salary gain compared with non-graduates under the current funding regime.
When variable tuition fees are introduced next year, graduates from institutions charging the maximum £3,000 fee would see their salary premium stand at 7.3 per cent for men and 10.3 per cent for women.
Dr O'Leary stressed that the benefits of a university education were measured not only in pecuniary terms.
"The debate is whether the student tuition fee regime should be brought in without looking at the individual subjects," he told The Times Higher .
"If students are interested in the financial returns from being a graduate, they need to be mindful of the subjects they choose."
Kat Fletcher, president of the National Union of Students, said: "All knowledge is valuable, and students should feel able to choose a course that will interest and challenge them without worrying about the pay packet waiting for them on graduation."