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‘Arts degrees offer worst earning potential’, Institute for Fiscal Studies claims

Creative arts graduates in Britain earn the least after university, claims a new report. Photo: Shutterstock

Creative arts graduates earn about 15% less than the average university leaver after five years of employment, according to a new government-backed study.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that while some degrees can lead to significantly higher than average earnings, for example medicine and economics, creative arts degrees are an “outlier” in attracting “particularly low” wages.

People who study degrees in the creative arts – subjects such as drama, dance, music and design – were found to make about £20,000 annually five years after graduation.

This is 15% lower than the average and 35 percentage points below those who studied the highest earning degrees.

The report, carried out on behalf of the Department for Education, says: “Average graduate earnings are around £26,000 to £30,000 five years after graduation, and so these differences could amount to earnings differentials of more than £10,000 a year. If these persist over the life cycle, this could represent a significant difference in lifetime income.”

It suggests that earning potential is affected by social background, ability level, GCSE and A level results, in addition to subject and institution choice.

The report notes that while the earnings of a maths graduate from Imperial College London are 100% higher than the average, studying at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts has financial returns of more than 40% below the average degree.

Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama are more than 50% below the average, the report says.

The study is the first in a series of studies “seeking to improve the information available to stakeholders on the value of degree courses”, and notes that young people often make the decision of what to study at an early age.

“These results highlight that students’ decisions about which institution to attend and what subject to study are likely to be important in determining later-life labour market outcomes. The evidence on returns [earnings] provided in this report provides new information for students to consider when making this decision,” the study says.