Pay reflects school ties

October 30, 1998

Graduates from state schools earn less than their privately educated counterparts even when they are the same age and sex and have read the same subject at the same university and achieved the same class of degree. That is the finding of a study by Robin Naylor, Jeremy Smith and Abigail McKnight of the University of Warwick.

"Graduates who attended independent schools have 2.5 per cent higher earnings than the exact same graduates who otherwise went to state schools," said Dr Naylor. He studied all full-time students in all subjects who graduated from all the old universities in 1993, and thinks that the old school tie network is the most likely explanation for the effect.

"This is a little disturbing," said Colin Gilliard of the Association of Graduate Recruiters. "I suppose possible reasons could include more confidence, greater ability to negotiate and placing a higher price on one's head. The other side of that coin is effective networking and better contacts."

Dr Naylor's research team also found that those who studied law or politics earn per cent more than those who studied humanities, all other things being equal. Graduates from Oxford and Cambridge universities earn 8 per cent more than graduates from other universities, all other things being equal. And there is a 6 per cent boost in salaries for people with first-class degrees compared with graduates of the same age and sex studying the same subject at the same university but achieving a lower class of degree.

"It isn't a hothouse effect, it is an independent school effect," said Dr Naylor. "Maybe independent school pupils have got the right school tie and the right university tie and they just need to graduate, not get a first."

Dr Naylor said that although his results implied that students studying law or politics should pay higher tuition fees than humanities students, they should not be used in this way. "One has to be very careful about funding students through university," he said. If fees were pegged according to eventual earnings, the huge fees faced by potential lawyers would deter students from poorer backgrounds.

Likewise it would be unfair to introduce a graduate tax, he argued. "It is very popular to talk about meritocracy," he said, "but is it really fair to tax graduates knowing that their earnings are not based on performance but on pre-university education background?"

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