Questionable claims on graduate pay
Reports by national newspaper education editors have suggested that the average starting salary for new graduates is £25,000 a year– or even £29,000, if you’re in a generous mood.
Those starting jobs on salaries much lower than this may wonder just how much others are being paid, if the average is indeed this high.
Jeevan Vasagar, Education Editor of The Guardian, reported on 25 January that figures from the Association of Graduate Recuiters showed average graduate starting salaries remaining static for the third year, at £25,000 pa. But High Fliers Research, he added, put the figure at £29,000 pa "though this was based on a narrower sample". The AGR figures were also quoted in The Sun, while the Financial Times’ Education Correspondent Chris Cook quoted the High Fliers’ £29,000 figure in a piece on 18 January.
He said, without qualification: “After rising throughout the recession, the average graduate starting salary for 2011 is unchanged at £29,000.”
These claims bewildered the anonymous writer of a blog called Confessions of a Scientist. Her blog discloses that she is a neuroscientist working in Scotland, and she says the claims made her choke on her lunch.
Her blog makes a powerful case for believing these figures to be unrepresentative of graduates as a whole, not to say plain wrong. The Higher Education Careers Service Unit and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services publishes an annual report called What do graduates Do?
The 2010 edition lists the salaries of graduates who completed a first degree in 2009 and entered full-time employment, based on a survey sent to all 274.385 graduates and returned by an impressive 224.895 (82 per cent) of them.
Average salary levels in 2009, the survey found, were £19,695 (£22,228 in London). The report includes a table (below) showing the starting salaries earned by graduates in different occupations.
These figures are for 2009, when AGR was quoting an average of £25,000 pa. There may have been a very modest increase in 2010, but certainly not sufficient to bridge the gap between £19,695 and £25,000, leave alone £29,000.
So it is plain that the different sources are measuring different things. AGR’s research is not available on its website, and nor is the method by which its average salary is calculated. So I cannot comment on it, except to say that it looks too high.
High Fliers Research, a market research company, is more transparent. Its figures are based on the salaries offered by the top 100 employers, as determined by a poll of final-year students who were asked “Which employer offers the best opportunities for graduates?”
The responses listed many blue-chip companies and organisations, including the likes of Accenture and Marks & Spencer, who were then asked by High Fliers what their current starting salaries for graduates are. Their replies led to the average salary of £29,000. Between them, these “100 top employers” recruited a total of 15,563 graduates – less than 6 per cent of the total surveyed in What do graduates do?
So the High Fliers’ average of £29,000 is not an average of all graduates, but of an elite group recruited by the top employers - themselves selected by asking final-year undergrduates who offered the best opportunities. Small wonder that the figure diverges so far from the true average salary.
There is nothing wrong with High Flier’s figures, so far as they go. But they reflect the experience of high fliers (the clue is in the name), mostly from a small group of universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, Manchester, and London (Imperial College, UCL and LSE).
In no way do they represent more than a small corner of graduate employment. Education writers should try a bit harder to make this clear.