Prospective students should aim for a first-class degree from a Russell Group university to maximise their future earnings, according to new research, writes Tony Tysome.
The study found that nearly a third of those with firsts from Russell Group institutions were earning more than £40,000 a year five years after graduating compared with just 5 per cent of first-class degree holders from other universities.
The survey of more than 800 people who graduated with firsts or 2.2s in 1997 or 2001 also discovered that about half of graduates with 2.2s go into jobs that do not require degree-level skills.
The research, which was conducted by Claire Smetherham, a postdoctoral research fellow at Cardiff University's School of Social Sciences, found that even after five years in the labour market, nearly a third of graduates with a 2.2 were in work that they felt did not require graduate-level training.
This compares with about one in six first-class degree holders who felt their work did not require a degree five years after leaving university.
People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were also less likely than their peers who had come from wealthier backgrounds to find themselves in well-paid "graduate" jobs.
A report on the research argues that the findings cast "considerable doubt upon assumptions that there are an adequate number of knowledge-intensive jobs for all graduates within the labour market".
Instead, says the report, the survey "points to evidence of a high degree of overqualification for graduates within the workplace - particularly for those with 2.2 degrees".