As in many other countries, government policy in the UK has the objective of raising the participation rate of young people in higher education, while also increasing the share of the costs of higher education borne by students themselves. A rationale for the latter element comes from evidence of a high private return to university undergraduate degrees. However, much of this evidence pre-dates the rapid expansion in the graduate population. In the current paper, we use evidence from a cohort of people born in 1970 to estimate hourly wage returns to a university degree. Among other results, we find (i) that compared to an earlier 1958 birth cohort the average returns to a first degree for men changed very little, while the return for women declined substantially and (ii) substantial evidence of differences in returns to a first degree according to subject area of study and class of degree awarded
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