A literature student who spent thousands of pounds on his degree is now working for Deliveroo and earning less on average than those who didn’t go to university.
Kieran Hughes, 28, graduated with a degree in literature and media at the University of Brighton before completing a masters at the University of Sussex.
It comes as a report reveals men who study art, English or philosophy at university earn on average less at the age of 29 than those without a degree.
For the first time, data exposes how many arts and humanities courses produce negative returns – even though they cost up to £9,250 a year.
The worst return is for men studying creative arts. They earn on average 14 per cent less than non-graduate peers – while for English it is 7 per cent less and for philosophy it is 4 per cent less.
There are better returns for women – but only because they are disadvantaged in the labour market in general.
For the first time, data exposes how many arts and humanities courses produce negative returns – even though they cost up to £9,250 a year. File photo
How much men earn by subject at aged 29 with a degree compared to no degree
The report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) will reignite the debate over whether some degree courses are worth the time and effort.
It comes as a Government-appointed panel prepares to release the results of a Higher Education Review, which will make recommendations about value-for-money and student fees.
After the IFS study of 1,400 courses was published yesterday, universities minister Sam Gyimah said courses failing to provide ‘value for money’ will have to ‘improve or delist’.
I have a masters … and now I work for Deliveroo
Kieran Hughes, 28, studied literature and media but now works for Deliveroo
Kieran Hughes, 28, spent thousands studying for his undergraduate degree in literature and media at the University of Brighton, and his masters from the University of Sussex.
He works as a Deliveroo rider and a drum teacher and last year earned £9,500 – but has debts of around £27,000.
He said many people like him only went to university because their friends did and never thought about their earnings.
If students were motivated by future earnings, he added, they needed to think about what degree they chose because of a ‘surplus’ of graduates.
Mr Hughes said: ‘There is an argument that degrees have been devalued because so many people do them. Anyone with an education should be able to support themselves.’
And the Office for Students (OfS) regulator vowed to ‘intervene’ where universities provide poor outcomes – with sanctions including fines and closure.
The IFS study links degree information with Whitehall tax data, taking a snapshot of annual earnings of 29-year-old graduates and non-graduates.
Among both groups, it examined only those with five GCSEs graded A* to C.
The study found that overall, a degree does produce a premium – of £6,200 a year for women and £2,000 for men.
Similarly, 99 per cent of women see a positive return on their degree, as do 67 per cent of men – an average of 85 per cent overall.
But this means a significant minority are seeing a negative effect from going to university.
The effect is worse for men because men who do not go to university tend to do better than women in the labour market.
Male-dominated trades which do not require a degree – such as plumbing and construction – can be lucrative.
The researchers calculated what a person would have earned had they not gone to university – adjusting for the fact that some subjects attract more affluent or more able students.
A man studying creative arts could expect to earn £25,900 – 14 per cent less than the £30,110 he would be earning if he had not gone to university.
Men doing English could earn £30,700 – 7 per cent less than the estimated £33,029.
And men doing philosophy could earn £37,000 – 4 per cent less than the estimated £38,581.
At the other end of the scale, men with economics degrees earn 33 per cent more than those who did not attend university.
Male-dominated trades which do not require a degree – such as plumbing and construction – can be lucrative
Mr Gyimah called on the OfS to ‘crack down’ on courses which ‘do not add value’.
He added: ‘It is clear that there are a clutch of courses at certain universities which are not delivering financial outcomes for students.
‘We have got to put [the data] out there to let prospective students know, and force the university to either delist the course or actually improve the course.’
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said: ‘Universities should scrutinise this data carefully, and some will need to ask themselves tough questions about how well they are preparing students for life after graduation.’
. . . but it’s good news for female students
Women have a much higher salary return from a degree at the age of 29 than men, and almost always benefit in cash terms from attending university, the study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed.
Researchers found that a degree increases average earnings by 26 per cent for women, but only 6 per cent for men. In addition, in contrast to men, women see a salary premium for every subject – even ones which produce low earnings.
Women studying creative arts earn 9 per cent more than those who have no degree, while those studying social care earn 14 per cent more.
Women have a much higher salary return from a degree at the age of 29 than men, and almost always benefit in cash terms from attending university. File photo
Experts say the trend can be explained by the vastly different paths men and women take if they do not go to university.
For women, not going to university often means having children earlier and therefore they are more likely to be working part-time or not at all by the age of 29. There is also the issue of women choosing poorly paid non-graduate paths, such as beauty or childcare.
In contrast, men who do not go to university are more likely to choose male-dominated lucrative trades such as plumbing or construction.
Those with some years’ experience can earn £40,000 or more – much higher than many graduates.
The calculations for salary premiums took into account additional factors, such as the different levels of affluence and ability of people attending university.
The study also found the gender pay gap between men and women who have been to university is narrower than that of men and women who have not.
Examining the raw earnings only, the average salary at age 29 for a university-educated man is £36,000 while for a university-educated female it is £30,000 – a difference of £6,000.
For non-university-educated men it is £30,000, and for women it is £21,000 – a difference of £9,000.