, , ,

I can be quite a data junkie so when I see a statistic reported in the media that looks a bit suspect warning bells sound. Last week, there were several stories reporting that the average graduate salary would remain fixed for another year at £25,000. These reports were based on two studies: the first was released by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) stating the £25,000 figure and the second by High Fliers Research predicting a higher salary of £29,000. After choking on my lunch in disbelief I decided to go in search of the data behind this information. Since the AGR wanted £200 for their report, I had to base my analysis on the freely available High Fliers Research report.

Before diving into the data I should maybe explain my choking disbelief mentioned above. I know people who graduated eight years ago with a 1st or a 2:1 degree from top universities who are just now reaching the heady heights of £25K never mind £29K. Admittedly, most of them are scientists and the fact that they are on the lower end of the payscale is not exactly breaking news, but my mental list also includes lawyers, architects, teachers, accountancy trainees and other graduate jobs in areas such as logistics and insurance.

So now for the data. The High Fliers Research report is based on the The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers from the autumn of 2010, including giants such as Accenture, Procter & Gamble, BP and the big four accountancy firms. These top 100 organisations were determined from a poll of over 16,000 final year students who were asked, “Which employer offers the best opportunities for graduates?” The report is entirely accurate when it states that for these specific employers and their available vacancies the median salary will be just over £29,000.

The problem arises when this data is interpreted and reported as the ‘average graduate salary’ in the media. That is a completely false assumption. It is the median salary based on 15,563 graduates recruited by December 2010 by 100 specific employers. Therefore this does not apply to the average or median salary of the 350,000 graduates of 2010 but merely 4.4% of them that managed to get a job with these ‘top 100 employers.’

Perhaps the article titles in the newspapers should be amended to; “A starting salary of £29,000 will apply to less than 5% of graduates” or “1.9% of graduates will have starting salaries of over £29,000.” The graduate jobs offered by the top 100 financial and blue chip organisations usually offer higher salaries than most other graduate recruiters. Equally the majority of them will offer positions in London where the salaries are generally higher.

Salaries from the High Fliers report

The graph above shows the number of positions offered in certain business sectors and their average salaries based on the High Fliers data. Investment bankers command the highest salary, while public sector workers receive the lowest. The accounting and professional services sector offers the greatest number of positions whereas the chemical & pharmaceutical industry offers the least. Several lower paying graduate recruiting sectors were not included in the report.

Data from the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) covered a wider range of graduate jobs as shown in the bar chart below. A selection of these along with the average graduate starting salaries are listed here:

  • Architect: 20K
  • Scientist/Technician: 23K
  • Marketing: 18K
  • Graphic Designer: 18K
  • Ecologist: 16K
  • Charity fundraiser: 18K
  • Recruitment consultant: 20K
  • Teaching: 20K

The HECSU report is based on 224,895 graduate responses (82% of all graduates) from 2008/9. The average salary reported here is £19,695, which is considerably lower than that reported in the media.



This is based on 224,895 graduate responses (82% of all graduates) to their survey in 2008/9. The average salary reported here is £19,695, considerably lower than that misreported in the media.

HECSU dataWith students now facing fees of up to £9000 a year in England it is only right that they are provided with adequate information on their potential salaries after graduation. Potential undergraduates should be wary of media statistics.