Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 17:15 UK

Degrees maintain job market value

Students' earning power has remained undiminished

The significant increase in students going to university in the past two decades has not damaged graduates' earning power, suggests research.

Until university expansion in the late 1980s, only about 14% of young people entered university - which had risen to about 40% by the mid-2000s.

But the advantages of a degree have not been diluted by this, say economists.

However the job prospects for this year's graduates could be tough, says Ian Walker of Lancaster University.

The research, by Professor Walker of Lancaster University Management School and Yu Zhu of the University of Kent, is the latest examination of the value of a degree in the labour market.


"There has been a huge expansion of students in higher education in a relatively short period of time - but the labour market seems to be able to absorb them," says Professor Walker.

The value of a degree in terms of an earnings "premium" has particularly increased for women, shows the research.

There has been a long-running debate whether continually increasing the number of graduates will, at some point, devalue their economic advantage.

This has become a more controversial question, with students paying tuition fees and with the prospect of fees being increased.

The long-term research so far suggests that the value has been maintained - with the economy requiring more skilled workers and supporting a buoyant jobs market for graduates.

Nonetheless, Professor Walker says students about to leave university this summer could be less fortunate - and that the current recession could leave a long-term legacy on their employment chances.

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