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University degrees are worth over £100,000 in additional earnings

Despite recent fee rises, a degree is a significant boost to additional earnings for graduates, a new OECD study claims

A university degree is worth up to £117,000 in additional earnings over a graduate’s working life, a recent OECD study has claimed.

However, the study looked only at the period to the end of 2011, before tuition fees in England increased to up to £9,000 a year.

The financial benefits to women were less dramatic, however, as female graduates in Britain could expect to achieve lifetime earnings below that of their male counterparts. The study suggested that female graduates will on average earn no more than 69 per cent of what similarly educated men might.

Nonetheless, Andrew Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy direction for education and skills, said the previous fee levels were not significant costs. “In the case of the UK you are talking about $180,000 (about £117,000) over your lifetime that you earn more than what you actually pay. The benefit is far greater than the cost.”

The OECD, an international think-tank, used its annual spending review to highlight the lifetime financial advantages of a university degree.

Mr Schleicher also emphasised that the earnings “premium” continued to rise across the industrialised world, despite fears of the falling value of a degree as more people attend university.

However, his claims contrast those made recently by Malcolm Brynin, from Essex University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research, who found the advantages previously brought by having a degree were on a decline. Mr Brynin’s research, quoted in Times Higher Education magazine, suggested that employers now routinely expect a degree for seemingly low-skilled occupations.

In 2011/12 the proportion of school leavers in higher education had increased to 49 per cent, up from 46 per cent a year earlier, figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills showed.