How much more do you earn if you finish university?

Angus Kidman 9 August 2016


Turns out that really is a million-dollar question.

Arguments over how much students should pay for their university degree generally assume that higher education will be economically beneficial to the individual. That often drives the logic behind proposals to increase the level of fees, even if those have been difficult to introduce politically. But just how big is the benefit?

A new report from the Grattan Institute tries to assign a dollar value to university education. According to the Mapping Australian higher education 2016 report, the average male with a bachelor degree will earn an additional $1.4 million over his lifetime, compared to someone of the same age who doesn't complete university. Women score a slightly less impressive but still notable $1 million extra. This figure doesn't actually include the cost of that education; if you subtract that, the figure goes down to $900,000 for men and $700,000 for women.

It's worth pointing out that this higher level of earnings might not be a direct reflection of actual university study. As the report itself notes: "Universities typically select students based on prior academic achievement, which in turn reflects their intelligence, their school education, and personal characteristics such as effort and persistence. Employers tend to reward these attributes with or without higher education." In other words: if you're good at university, you're more likely to be good at your job.

Australian universities have lower world rankings than they used to, but that doesn't mean they don't provide clear benefits to their students and to the broader community. The difficulty is working out how to continue to fund them, an exercise which cost the Federal government $15.7 billion in the most recent financial year.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on

Picture: Shutterstock

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