The UK government’s migration advisers are facing questions over their use of graduate earnings figures to justify rejecting the return of post-study work visas.
The report on the impact of overseas students in the UK by the Migration Advisory Committee, made up of academic economists led by Alan Manning of the London School of Economics, looked at figures for non-EU graduate earnings in 2015-16 from the Department for Education’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes data, described as “experimental” by the department.
Professor Manning says in his foreword to the report: “One reason for not recommending a longer post-study work period is that the earnings of some graduates who remain in the UK seem surprisingly low and it is likely that those who would benefit from a longer period to find a graduate-level job are not the most highly skilled.”
But Professor Manning failed to mention that for those who had taken undergraduate degrees in the UK, earnings were higher for non-EU graduates than UK graduates at every level (lower quartile, median and upper quartile), as the main body of the report makes clear.
For non-EU master’s students, earnings are significantly lower at the lower quartile only (£15,400 against £20,500 for UK master’s graduates). But that gap narrows at median level before disappearing at upper quartile level. Earnings were lower at every level for the small number of non-EU MBA graduates in the LEO data.
If these non-EU graduates were employed under Tier 2 skilled worker visas, they would need to have earnings of at least £20,800 a year (the minimum salary threshold for those switching from Tier 4 student visas to Tier 2, lower than the standard £30,000 Tier 2 threshold).
Some in the sector have noted that there is no information about the visa status of the non-EU graduates captured in the LEO data.
The data could be picking up non-EU graduates who have remained in the UK after study as a dependant or spouse, they suggest, and these people may be women working part-time.
A MAC spokesman suggested three potential factors behind the low earnings figures for some non-EU graduates: the lower earnings threshold for Tier 4 “switchers”, the fact that some could be “student jobs continuing until their student visa expires”, and the fact that some could be on the Tier 1 graduate entrepreneur visa (for which there is no salary threshold).
After citing the LEO graduate earnings figures as a reason for rejecting post-study work visas, Professor Manning told journalists at a briefing on the MAC report: “The data here [are] not as good as we would like. And we’re an evidence-based body so one of our recommendations is there should be more investigation of those surprisingly low earnings. And if that came up with some other conclusion, then we would potentially reconsider [our] conclusion [on post-study work visas].”
Concerns had already been voiced about the LEO data – including their failure to take into account earnings variations by region and by gender. Therefore many in the sector will be surprised that a group of academic economists has, even while admitting reservations about the data, relied on them so heavily.