Graduated who obtained their first degree at college often earn as much as university graduates, and are almost as likely to be in employment or further training five years on, according to new data published by the government.
The statistics for the most recent available tax year, 2015-16, for the first time covers those who graduated with a first degree from a further education college. They show students who obtained their first degree at college are only about one per cent less likely to be in further study, sustained employment or both one, three, five and 10 years after graduation.
When it comes to earnings, the differences between graduates from further education colleges and their university peers are slightly more pronounced, with college leavers earning on average £14,600, compared to £19,000 for those from universities. The difference widens slightly over time, according to the figures, with those with degrees from colleges earning £23,700 after five years, compared to £30,000 for those who obtained their first degree at university.
However, data broken down by subject studied shows the difference in median earnings in 2015-16 varied significantly, depending on the subject area, with engineering students even earning slightly more if they studied at college. While they earned £29,900, those who graduated from university earned £29,500. However, in subject areas like psychology and law, whose from university backgrounds were found to earn significantly more.
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said the figures were “refreshing”. “They make it clear that colleges are providing excellent opportunities for learners to improve their careers, which will be reflected in their earnings down the line. And that is despite college students often having lower prior levels of attainment than those at universities.”
Ian Pretty, chief executive of Collab Group, said the data demonstrated that graduates from colleges were more likely to be mature students “and in the context of uncertainty about the shape of the future labour market, it is clear that [further education institution’s] have a vital role to play in working to upskill and retrain adult learners to promote social mobility and support career progression”.
And Ann Watson, chief executive of science, engineering and manufacturing technologies alliance SEMTA, said: “The slightly higher average pay rate for those in engineering who have completed further education could be reflective of the fact that FE qualifications are more vocationally focused than university degrees.
She added: “Semta’s recent ”Engineering a Qualified Sector” report shows that the vast majority of employers in our sector would prefer to take on engineers who have qualifications which included some measure of hands-on experience and training. It could be that this gap closes as degree apprenticeships become a more widely-used route into an engineering career, as they offer the combination of knowledge and practical application of that knowledge that employers prize.”