Research carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research on behalf of the University and College Union found that the net gain to the economy from someone who gains A levels is £47,000, with a degree worth an additional £180,000.
Gain comes from individuals’ increased gross earnings over their lifetime, while costs include the state’s investment in teaching, calculated as £25,000 for A levels and a degree, and the earnings students forgo while they are studying.
The authors of Further Higher? Tertiary education and growth in the UK’s new economy, published on 9 June, said the report showed that the economic boost provided by gaining such qualifications justified the investment in further and higher education on financial grounds alone.
“As tough strategic decisions are made about where to invest state funds in the lead-up to the next spending review, it is imperative that government and policymakers consider the contribution of tertiary education to creating growth in the context of an uncertain economic outlook and an increasingly competitive global economy,” it said.
The report also considered growth areas that the UK is failing to take advantage of. According the study, unless the country produces more highly skilled workers, it risks “haemorrhaging jobs abroad” and losing the chance to build a competitive advantage in new low-carbon industries.
The vice-president for Europe of car manufacturer Nissan, Jerry Hardcastle, who was interviewed for the report, warned that jobs will move abroad if the UK does not have the skills.
“In India they are churning out hundreds of thousands of graduates, and we are churning out a small number and that will restrict our ability to expand,” he said. “If they’re not available here, the jobs will move to India, Brazil and China.”
Launching the report at the UCU’s annual congress in Manchester on 9 June, Sally Hunt, the union’s general secretary, is set to tell delegates that 80 per cent of new jobs by 2020 are likely to be professional or technical.
“This research highlights the folly of reducing public investment in our colleges and universities,” she was due to say.
“Instead of cutting places and making it more expensive to study, ministers need a strategy which harnesses further and higher education to provide a window of opportunity for the next generation.”
The study also compiles figures on UK spending that show that Britain invests just 1.7 per cent of public expenditure in further and higher education, compared with 2.3 per cent in France, 2.8 per cent in Germany and the 3.0 per cent average across countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The report recommends that the government prioritise expanding the number of graduates entering the workforce across all subjects, including the arts, social sciences and humanities.
It also says that in order to boost innovation in the UK economy, the government must offer greater support for research and development and knowledge transfer, including university start-ups.