Salary data lift lid on universities whose graduates earn most

Hotly anticipated figures on salaries show that for subjects such as economics and law, the university attended has stronger link to high earnings

June 13, 2017
Giant magnet attracting money
Source: Corbis

Graduate salaries vary much more according to the university a student attended in disciplines such as economics, business studies and law than in humanities subjects, new statistics reveal.

The Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, released by the UK’s Department for Education, pinpoints for every subject area which universities produce the highest-earning graduates after they have been in the labour market for five years.

Unsurprisingly, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge repeatedly figure at the top of the lists, which are based on tax data. However, attending a more selective university carries much more of an advantage in some subjects than others.


Distribution of median annualised earnings across HEIs for each subject area five years after graduation

For example, the median salary after five years for a Cambridge graduate who left in 2008-09 after studying an economics subject was £61,000, the highest in the sector, while the lowest median salary for economics was £18,100 for someone who went to the University of East London.

But another popular subject such as English shows a much smaller spread: the highest median salary after five years was again earned by a Cambridge graduate, but was lower at £31,000; while the lowest, £13,300, was recorded for a graduate attending the University of St Mark and St John.

Highest median salaries after five years

Subject University   Salary (£s) 
Agriculture and related subjects Imperial College London                                                                29,800
Architecture building and planning Anglia Ruskin University                                                                39,500
Biological sciences University of Cambridge                                                                36,600
Business and administrative studies University of Oxford                                                                71,700
Computer science Imperial College London                                                                51,800
Creative arts and design Bournemouth University                                                                27,600
Economics University of Cambridge                                                                61,000
Education Brunel University London                                                                35,400
Engineering and technology University of Aberdeen                                                                49,000
English studies University of Cambridge                                                                31,000
Historical and philosophical studies London School of Economics                                                                 42,200
Languages (excluding English studies) University of Cambridge                                                                36,100
Law University of Oxford                                                                61,400
Mass communications and documentation Loughborough University                                                                33,700
Mathematical sciences University of Oxford                                                                49,900
Medicine and Dentistry University of Glasgow                                                                49,200
Nursing University of Portsmouth                                                                35,500
Physical sciences Imperial College London                                                                38,500
Psychology University of Oxford                                                                37,100
Social studies (excluding economics) University of Oxford                                                                38,600
Subjects allied to medicine (excluding nursing) Queen Mary University of London                                                                46,000
Veterinary science University of Bristol                                                                36,600
Note: graduating cohort 2008-09, male and female graduates


Lowest median salaries after five years

Subject University  Salary (£s) 
Agriculture and related subjects University of Salford                                                           14,800
Architecture building and planning University of Huddersfield                                                           20,500
Biological sciences Wrexham Glyndŵr University                                                           16,800
Business and administrative studies University of Wolverhampton                                                           19,400
Computer science University of Cumbria                                                           19,800
Creative arts and design Conservatoire for Dance and Drama                                                           10,000
Economics University of East London                                                           18,100
Education University of Manchester                                                           16,500
Engineering and technology Bath Spa University                                                           19,300
English studies University of St Mark and St John                                                           13,300
Historical and philosophical studies University Campus Suffolk                                                           13,000
Languages (excluding English studies) University of Salford                                                           16,700
Law University of Bradford                                                           17,300
Mass communications and documentation Bangor University                                                           15,500
Mathematical sciences University of South Wales                                                           19,100
Medicine and Dentistry University of St Andrews                                                           40,300
Nursing University of Liverpool                                                           23,900
Physical sciences University of Wales Trinity Saint David                                                           16,700
Psychology University Campus Suffolk                                                           15,500
Social studies (excluding economics) University of the Highlands and Islands                                                           16,300
Subjects allied to medicine (excluding nursing) University of South Wales                                                           10,000
Veterinary science University of Glasgow                                                           33,900
Note: graduating cohort 2008-09, male and female graduates 

The data are also cross-referenced with students’ entry grades to show where prior attainment at school correlates the most with the future earnings of graduates.

Subjects such as business studies and law appear to show the closest link between the grades that students enter university with and their salaries five years after graduating. But there also seem to be similar strong correlations at the top end of the salary range for some humanities subjects such as history or English.

Median earnings across HEIs five years after graduation for Business & Administrative Studies.
Institutions are banded by prior attainment of students with Band 1 the highest


Median earnings across HEIs five years after graduation for Historical & Philosophical Studies

There appears to be no correlation whatsoever between entry grades and later earnings for those who studied creative arts subjects: in some cases graduates who attended universities with low entry tariffs went on to earn just as much as those who entered institutions accepting those with the top grades.


Median earnings across HEIs five years after graduation for Creative Arts & Design.

The difference between the universities producing the highest- and lowest-earning graduates in creative arts subjects after five years is also much smaller than in other subjects: the highest median salary was £27,600 (Bournemouth University) and the lowest £10,000 (Conservatoire for Dance and Drama).

Other subjects – most notably some science disciplines – show that there are a number of less selective universities whose graduates go on to earn towards the higher end of the salary scale after five years, and conversely selective institutions with graduates earning a lot less.


Median earnings across HEIs five years after graduation for Engineering & Technology

In engineering and technology, for instance, Bournemouth University graduates earned almost £40,000 at the median after five years, while at the University of Sussex the median salary was under £30,000.

Other examples include biological sciences, where the median salary for graduates from the University of Sheffield was £23,600, less than the median for those who attended the University of Chichester, who earned £24,800 after five years. And in history and philosophy subjects, the median salary for a graduate from Lancaster University was £22,500, less than graduates who went to Edge Hill University (£24,100) or London Metropolitan University (£23,100).​

Anna Vignoles, professor of education at the University of Cambridge, said that, although the data highlighted that graduate earnings were strongly linked to other factors such as prior attainment, they would still be helpful in guiding students in their choices.

“I think it is useful, not least in enabling us to understand that our system, rightly or wrongly, is pretty much a hierarchical HE system where people with the highest level of prior attainment…go on to get the highest level of earnings.

“We can worry about that and critique that but, from the students’ perspective, it is important to know that.”

Professor Vignoles also pointed out that the raw LEO data needed to be treated with caution in many respects. For example, they do not contain earnings data on those who were self-employed, a much more likely mode of employment for creative arts graduates.

Nevertheless, she said the policy implications were still important, not so much in terms of revealing the universities where graduates earn the most or the least, but for pinpointing the best way to help high-achieving students from poorer backgrounds.

“If we are serious about social mobility then of course students with high A-level grades must get to some of these [more selective] institutions,” she said.

Responding to the data, Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said that “graduate salaries are not the only measure of success in higher education” and added that “many students seek rewarding careers where high salaries are not their only motivation”.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles