The above chart visualises Department for Education (DofE) data tracking median graduate earnings based on subject studied five years after graduation – the longest period such data has recorded so far.
Creative Arts and Design are at the bottom of the table, barely reaching the national average for full-time employees of £28,028. Humanities subjects vary in terms of graduate earnings, with education and languages sitting in the middle of the scale alongside the physical and biological sciences.
Based on the highest earnings of graduates studying particular subjects, economics and business studies can help students achieve the highest incomes alongside law, while at the top of the scale, medicine and dentistry far outstrips all other subjects in terms of earnings after graduation, with the lowest incomes in those categories being higher than the median graduate incomes of all other subjects.
LEO data also reveals that prior attainment – GCSE and A Level results awarded before going to university – is a significant factor in graduate earnings. Gender and ethnicity, particularly when combined, also have a significant effect on graduate earnings.
According to WonkHE, “the absolute gender pay gap and pay gaps for several ethnic minorities, do not build up over time, but appear instantly when graduates enter the labour market, again regardless of subject studied. These gender and racial pay gaps also get worse the further into their careers that graduates embark. The pay gaps between
white men and non-white women are particularly striking.” LEO data shows the reality of structural inequality, in particular in terms of class, gender and ethnicity, rather than the effect of ‘choice’ and equality of opportunity.
As it focuses on economic value over social or subjective value, the LEO data is subject to
misuse by both a government keen to push marketisation further through the sector and
by vice-chancellors desperate to gain advantage before new providers fully appear to
disrupt the status quo.
Andrew McGettigan has argued that this kind of data allows higher education to be conceptualised as ‘variable human capital investment’, which is to say as a private investment by individuals in future economic prosperity and an arms length government system for the production of skilled labour to meet the needs of the wider economy. Individuals and institutions are rewarded or punished according to how wisely they invest; education is reduced to cost-benefit analysis.
NOTE: Thanks to the University and Colleges Union (UCU) for allowing me to re-use a branch note version of this ‘charticle’ which I wrote as national executive officer for our members.