Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Graduate Earnings by Institution? Let's Break It Down for You: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Graduate Earnings by Institution? Let's Break It Down for You: News

Article excerpt

Minister and BIS take close interest in study with enormous policy implications. John Morgan writes.

Research to measure the earnings of graduates according to the university they attended has taken a step forward, prompting suggestions that it could pave the way to unlimited fees for some institutions or even the sale of student loans to banks.

Some in the sector warn that the project - led by Neil Shephard, professor of economics at the University of Oxford, and Anna Vignoles, professor of education at the University of Cambridge - could have "dangerous" policy implications if it is interpreted to mean that universities with the highest-earning graduates are the best institutions.

The project has now gathered data from HM Revenue & Customs' PAYE database and linked them to individuals' Student Loans Company information, giving an initial sample of 170,000 graduates.

For the first time, the project will measure graduate earnings in the long term and plot them against the institution attended and subject studied. It aims to estimate for each institution the proportion of loans never repaid by graduates - the resource accounting and budgeting (RAB) charge.

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, is taking a close interest in the project. And the data are viewed by senior figures in the sector as having enormous potential significance for the higher education funding policies of the three main political parties.

In a 2010 co-authored paper, Professor Shephard argued that universities could be allowed to charge above a Pounds 7,000 threshold if they pay an insurance premium to the government reflecting the earnings of their graduates, suggesting one potential policy use for the project.

Professor Vignoles said the study would provide information on graduates "who have been in the labour market for a number of years (unlike existing data, which really only go a few years after graduation)" and allow comparisons between peers from different universities.

She added: "We will, for example, be able to determine how the earnings of graduates from a particular institution compare with the earnings of students who are similar but who attended a different institution."

The project is being undertaken independently of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, "though BIS is keen on the work", Professor Vignoles said. …

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