Students who study at Oxford and Cambridge will start on salaries £7,600 – or 42% – higher than graduates from post-1992 universities, according to new Sutton Trust research published today.  The average starting salary for an Oxbridge graduate is approximately £25,600 compared to £18,000 from the new universities.

The research, Earning by Degrees, which draws on Higher Education Statistics Agency data, shows stark differences in the starting salaries of students according to the subject studied and university attended.

There is a larger salary premium for graduates from medicine, engineering and technology, economics, and computer science courses. Six months after graduation, engineering and technology graduates will earn starting salaries £8,800 (55%) higher than design and creative arts graduates, and £8,000 (49%) higher than English graduates. A science or engineering graduate at Oxbridge is likely to command a starting salary £11,800 higher than a graduate in an arts or humanities subject from a post-1992 university.

Graduates of Oxford and Cambridge gain a significant premium, even compared to other highly selective universities, earning £3,300 (15%) more than those in the 11 other most selective universities.

Differences in earnings between graduates of different universities persist even when factors like socio-economic background, previous educational attainment and attendance at a private or state school are taken into account.

The Sutton Trust said today that the research highlighted the importance to social mobility of enabling bright students from less advantaged backgrounds to access the best universities. The Trust provides 1900 places at its summer schools at ten leading universities each year to encourage able sixth formers to choose the best courses and universities for them.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today:

“This new research shows how important it is that we enable low and middle income students with the ability to go to Oxbridge and other elite universities to fulfil their potential. With your chances of going to a top university nearly ten times higher if you come from a rich rather than a poor neighbourhood, it is vital that we redouble our efforts to improve access to these institutions.

“Sutton Trust access programmes, including our summer schools, already make a big difference. But we need to do more to raise aspirations and attainment among school students from an earlier age if we are to close this access gap, which is why we launched Sutton Scholars earlier this month to work with highly able students from the age of 13.

”The figures also show the importance of choosing the right degree and course. 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.”

After accounting for graduates’ demographic characteristics, social background, and previous educational attainment, other key findings include:

  • Oxbridge graduates earn starting salaries that are £4,800 higher than graduates from post-1992 universities and £2,500 higher than graduates other elite universities when background and other factors are taken into account.
  • 5 years after graduation, graduates from the 13 most selective universities earn on average £4,300 per year (17%) more than graduates from post-1992 universities, and are 12 percentage points more likely to be in professional employment.
  • The five subjects with the highest starting salary were medicine and dentistry; engineering and technology; economics; computer science; and education. The five lowest earning subjects were psychology; English; design and creative arts; biological sciences; and history and philosophy. Medicine and dentistry graduates earn starting salaries £8,000 per year (48%) higher than English and psychology graduates.
  • Average starting salaries for graduates from arts, humanities, and social science courses at Oxbridge are around 10% higher than those for science and maths graduates from post-1992 universities
  • All other things being equal, graduates who attended fee-paying secondary schools earned average starting salaries £1,300 higher than their state school educated counterparts. However, which school you went to makes no difference to the starting salaries of medicine graduates.
  • Surprisingly, Oxbridge graduates who were the first in their family to go to university did better than those from more educationally advantaged families, earning starting salaries £1,000 higher.

The report’s author, Sutton Trust research fellow Dr Robert de Vries said:

“The research shows that where and what you study matters a great deal for your career outcomes. 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.”

Research by the Independent Commission on Fees earlier this year showed that there is a near ten-fold gap in the proportion of students from the poorest and richest fifth of neighbourhoods going to the Sutton Trust 13 group of highly selective universities.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Sharmini Selvarajah on 020 7802 0645 or Conor Ryan on 0207 802 1660


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 150 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. The Sutton Trust 13 are Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham,  Edinburgh, Imperial College London, London School of Economics,  Nottingham,  Oxford,  St Andrews, University College London, Warwick and York universities.
  3. The Sutton Trust’s week long UK summer schools are designed to give bright students from non-privileged homes a taste of life at a leading university.  The programme reaches over 1,900 sixth form students across ten leading universities – Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, King’s College London, Nottingham, the Royal Veterinary College, St Andrews and UCL. Independent evaluation has shown that young people have a significantly higher chance of going to a leading university if they attend one of the summer schools.
  4. Sutton Scholars is a new programme which gives academically able students aged 11-14 from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to participate in workshops and seminars at leading universities.
  5. The report is based on an analysis of the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Survey (DLHE) survey of 2012/13 graduates six months after graduation, and of the DLHE longitudinal survey of 2008/09 graduates 3.5 years after graduation (copyright Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited 2014 – HESA cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the data by third parties). Sample size considerations mean that separate Oxbridge data is only available for starting salaries.

Analyses of earnings were restricted to UK domiciled graduates from first degree courses (excluding the Open University) who were in full-time work at the time of the survey.

Analyses of access to professional employment were restricted to UK domiciled graduates from first degree courses (excluding the Open University) who were in full or part-time work at the time of the survey, or who were unemployed.  Professional employment was defined as occupations falling into the top three analytic classes of the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification – large employers and higher managerial and administrative occupations, higher professional occupations, and lower professional occupations).

  1. The following factors are accounted for in the adjusted figures: age, gender, government office region of domicile prior to the start of the course, UCAS tariff score, study mode (full or part time study), degree classification, parental education (whether the respondents parents had a higher education qualification prior to the start of the respondents course), parental occupation (whether the respondents parents had a professional job prior to the start of the respondents course), and whether the respondent attended a fee-paying secondary school.
  2. The Independent Commission on Fees research can be found here.

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