The proportion of privately schooled students who go on to take a postgraduate course is growing in comparison with those from state schools with the same qualifications.
Research by the London School of Economics for the Sutton Trust presents the first detailed breakdown of the social and educational backgrounds of postgraduate students.
The analysis, which examined data for hundreds of thousands of students and is published today, found a small but growing gap between the postgraduate participation rates of otherwise like-for-like private school and state school students.
In 2002, university graduates who had attended independent schools were no more likely to carry on to postgraduate education than their state-educated counterparts, once factors such as their degree subject, university and grades were taken into account.
But by 2008, independently educated graduates were 2 per cent more likely to be taking a postgraduate course six months after graduating than their state-educated peers.
However, the study concludes that the underrepresentation of postgraduates from poorer backgrounds is largely the result of universities' undergraduate intakes.
One in six (17 per cent) postgraduate students was educated at an independent school, compared with 14 per cent of undergraduate students and 7 per cent of school pupils.
The researchers, based at the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, also examined "earning power". Their findings show that graduates with a masters degree earn an average of £1.75 million over their lifetime, while those with PhDs earn an average of £1.9 million.
These figures are 15 and 23 per cent more, respectively, than for graduates with first degrees only.
"This report provides further evidence for the importance of improving enrolment on to degree courses of those students from non-privileged backgrounds in the first place," says the study, The Social Composition and Future Earnings of Postgraduates.
FINDINGS FROM THE STUDY
- The number of full-time postgraduates in the UK has nearly doubled since 1995, reaching 250,000 in 2008
- More than half (55 per cent) of full-time postgraduates in 2008 came from overseas, up from 30 per cent in 1995
- Students from research-intensive Russell Group and 1994 Group universities make up 40 per cent of all postgraduates, and the majority of PhD students
- UK postgraduates pay £2.75 billion a year in fees
- Some 30 per cent of postgraduates are from higher managerial and professional backgrounds, compared with per cent of undergraduates
- In 2008, 30 per cent of students from independent schools were on a postgraduate course six months after graduating, compared with 23 per cent of students from state schools
- The average starting salary for a postgraduate was £24,000 in 2008, compared with £19,500 for an undergraduate.