Summary of Social Mobility Commission report on value of higher and FE qualifications 

February 2023

The Social Mobility Commission's Interim Report - understanding student access to labour market value of HE and FE qualifications and summary document Labour market value of higher and further education qualifications were published 9 February. They are part of a series highlighting the Social Mobility Commission’s commitment towards improving the information available to students about the labour market value of qualifications. 

The report looked at whether doing a higher or further education course leads to someone earning more. The authors acknowledge that Interpreting value-added is not a perfect measure, but that it is useful for understanding average earnings returns for different qualifications. 

Key findings
  • On average, those who study qualifications in higher education (HE) or further education (FE) earn more compared to those who do not. 
  • That this persists even when accounting for an individual’s personal characteristics, suggesting that on average studying a qualification in HE or FE is associated with a positive value-added in earnings.
  • In FE, studying a qualification higher than someone’s current level is associated with higher future earnings. This may imply that working one’s way up the FE qualification ladder can boost earnings. 
  • In HE, there is a lot of variation in value-added across subjects, with science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects, law and economics generally being associated with higher earnings.
  • In FE, the authors state that it is harder to draw conclusions, but subjects such as business administration and engineering have a high value-added for both women and men. 
  • In HE, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately less likely to attend universities or study subjects associated with higher earnings when compared to their wealthier peers with similar grades. 
The report concludes that whilst some courses may have high value-added to earnings, in FE, there are courses which have high employability values, where getting into work may be more important, but earnings are lower, such as roles in social care. 

The report’s findings are good news for those taking vocational courses in both HE and FE as it is clear that climbing the ladder of learning can help increase future earnings as well as assisting in finding employment in certain subjects.


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