Which university's graduates earn the most?

Emma Woollacott
piggy bank with a graduation cap
piggy bank with a graduation cap

With the 15 January deadline looming, most prospective students have already got their university applications in - and now face a nail-biting wait to discover whether they've got their chosen place.

But these days, with some universities charging students as much as £9,000 a year, choosing a degree course has for many people become a business decision. Average debts on graduation are now as much as £44,000, and canny prospective students are looking for a course that will lead to high enough earnings to make all that debt worthwhile.

So which universities - and which subjects - are likely to give you the best return for your money?

A new report from salary research company Emolument.com shows a big variation in graduate earnings, with graduates from the London Business School, for example, earning nearly 75% more than those from the University of Nottingham five years after graduation. And, perhaps surprisingly, graduates of Warwick Business School outperform those from Cambridge and Edinburgh universities.

"Few people will be surprised that both Oxford and Cambridge University appear high in the "Alumni Rich List," earning an average of £54k and £52k respectively," say the researchers.

"But what may raise a few eyebrows is that graduates from leading business schools that take up most of the top positions, with London Business School averaging as much as £16,000 per year more than Oxbridge universities."

Interestingly, the universities that demand the highest entry grades aren't necessarily those that deliver the highest post-university earnings. Graduates from the University of Sheffield, which ranks as low as 26th in the university league tables, appear seventh on the Alumni Rich List, earning an average of over £49,000 five years on.

In contrast, Durham University is ranked fifth in the UK by the Complete University Guide, but its graduates appear in twelfth place in the Rich List, averaging salaries of £45,000.

But it's not just the university you go to that affects your earnings - it's the subject you pick, too. Figures from the Sutton Trust show, for example, a big salary premium for graduates from medicine, engineering and technology, economics and computer science courses.

Six months after graduation, engineering and technology graduates will be on starting salaries that average £8,800 (55%) more than design and creative arts graduates, says the Sutton Trust, and £8,000 (49%) higher than English graduates.

The five lowest earning subjects were psychology; English; design and creative arts; biological sciences; and history and philosophy. Medicine and dentistry graduates were found to earn starting salaries £8,000 per year (48%) higher than English and psychology graduates.

Look at both the university and the course, and a science or engineering graduate from Oxbridge is likely to be on a starting salary £11,800 higher than a graduate in an arts or humanities subject from a post-1992 university.

"The research shows that where and what you study matters a great deal for your career outcomes," says the report's author, Sutton Trust research fellow Dr Robert de Vries.

"There are large advantages to a degree in the right subject from an elite university – even after accounting for differences in school achievement, social background and degree classification."

For some, though, university appears to confer no career advantage at all. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that, of the 2013 crop of graduates, more than 18,000 were unemployed six months on, with thousands more working as cleaners, shelf-stackers and road sweepers.

While three quarters of those who studied science subjects at university were in 'professional' jobs, this figure was just 55% for those that took creative arts degrees, 52% for those that studied languages and 51% those who had studied history and philosophy.

And while just 5.1% of science students were working in factories and other 'elementary occupations' six months after graduation, this was the case for more than one in 10 creative arts graduates and those who took history and philosophy.

As Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation says, "With debts of £44,000 on average, returns from some degrees may mean going into a good apprenticeship offers a better deal for many students."

Overall, though, there's good news for graduates, with companies recruiting more this year than ever before. Graduate recruitment's up by nearly eight percent, and is expected to rise even more this year. Median starting salaries are up, too, for the first time in five years at £30,000.

Says managing director of High Fliers Research, Martin Birchall, "It's great news that students leaving university this summer who've paid higher tuition fees for their degrees will be emerging into the most buoyant graduate job market for over a decade, with a wider choice of graduate vacancies at the country's most sought-after employers and better starting salaries."

Graduate salaries by university (source Emolument.com)
1. London Business School: £69,000
2. Oxford University: £54,000
3. Warwick Business School: £53,000
4. Cambridge University: £52,500
5. Cass Business School: £50,500
6. LSE London School of Economics: £50,000
7. University of Sheffield: £49,000
8. Edinburgh University: £48,500
9. Imperial College London: £47,000
10. University of Birmingham: £46,500
11. University of London: £45,500
12. Durham University: £45,000
13. University of Bath: £43,500
14. Aston University: £43,000
15. Warwick University: £42,500
16. Bristol University: £41,000
17. UCL University College London: £40,500
18. Loughborough University: £40,500
19. University of Leeds: £40,500
20. University of Nottingham: £40,000

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