Students have lost out to fee increases, lockdowns and lecture strikes, but a university degree can still be a golden ticket to a well-paid job – if you study at the right place.

Indeed, graduates from a select group of British universities now earn around £40,000 or more on average in the first five years after finishing their studies, research has revealed.

The average salary for jobs requiring a degree is now £26,944, compared to £21,494 for those without one, according to analysis by jobsite Adzuna.

Salaries improve for those who attain higher grades. Jobs requiring a first-class degree had advertised salaries of £30,420, while graduates with a 2:2 could expect to earn £28,391 a year, the study found.

Adzuna also looked at the career pathways graduates of different universities commonly take after finishing their studies, and what they could expect to be earning five years into their careers based on current market conditions.

The list was dominated by many universities one might expect. 

Oxford and Cambridge ranked second and fifth respectively, with graduates making up to £49,086 a year. However, they were both beaten by specialist business school Bayes, part of the City University of London, where graduates earn more than £51,000.

They were followed by Warwick Business School (£47,446), Imperial College (£46,305), and University College London (£40,852). Other Russell Group universities such as Durham, King’s College London and Newcastle also ranked highly.

However, advertised salaries for most graduates were found to have dropped when compared to last year.

Cambridge graduates’ expected pay has dropped by £1,510 since 2022, from £44,190. Graduates from Edinburgh, Manchester and Cranfield are also facing lower pay compared to last year, the analysis found.

By contrast, the average pay for Oxford alumni five years after graduation has risen by £1,468.

Andrew Hunter, of Adzuna, said the figures showed the value of a university education was “being eroded by inflation”.

He added: “Compared to a year ago, high inflation is driving up the cost of living and eating into many workers’ take-home pay, and the graduate ‘bonus’ hasn’t kept pace.”

The average university degree leaves graduates with £45,000 in debt, which they only start paying off once their salary exceeds £27,295.

Adzuna’s figures showed that of the 125 universities included in the study, 18 would not lead graduates to a job salary above that threshold within five years.

Just 19 universities were found to lead to salaries above £35,000. But roughly half of all universities would lead graduates to salaries exceeding £30,000.

Choosing the right uni is the key to higher pay

A degree from one of Britain’s top universities is still one of the best ways of landing a better-paid job. 

James Hutt, who studied natural sciences at Cambridge, said by simply studying at a prestigious university, students could increase their chances of being recruited into high-paying firms.

“It was almost the default option because there were so many banks, law firms and consultancies around [at careers day events on campus],” he said.

Mr Hutt, 29, said such events “weren’t going on at every uni”, adding that his first internship opportunity came from someone he met at an event for “freshers” in their first year. 

He said: “Later in life when I was working at one of those firms it was clear they were only putting that effort into a few universities.”

Mr Hutt now works as an independent consultant, helping companies understand the impact of new technology on their business models. 

He earns roughly £60,000 a year but admitted he earned “much more” in a previous job with a bank.

This article was first published on 3 April 2023, and is kept updated with the latest information.

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