Why graduates win by degrees [FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]University education is good for your financial future[/FONT] [FONT=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif]Neasa MacErlean Sunday September 29, 2002[/FONT] Graduates leaving university with debts of £10,000 or £12,000 should look to their enhanced future prospects if they want to be cheered up. If they go into the law, they will on average start on a salary of £28,000 - 19 per cent more than the mean national salary of £23,600 across all age groups. Although the law pays best, graduates are likely to get a significant pay premium in most sectors - and are also more likely to be promoted and live in more expensive houses, according to recent research. A survey from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development this summer found the best returns for going to university in the Western world are in the UK. For every £1 invested in their university studies (including forgone earnings), UK graduates earn around 18p a year for the rest of their working lives. This beats the other nine countries surveyed - including the US (14.9p), Japan (7.9p) and other major European states. Software consultancy and work in finance are also among the highest paid sectors, according to the New Earnings Survey: salaries average between £36,000 and £48,000 for all employees. Male graduates earn most from law degrees (£38,700 a year during their working life), computing (£35,700) and business administration (£35,100), according to Warwick University research (updated for salary inflation by The Observer). But graduate pay varies considerably according to the subject read, your sex, your job and your contacts. On average, female graduates get paid 15 per cent less than men, says the Equal Opportunities Commission. In medicine, for instance, general practice is becoming female- dominated, with many of those GPs working part-time and therefore earning less than their male colleagues, who are more likely to work for longer hospitals and earn lucrative consultancy fees. Meanwhile, research from the London School of Economics shows that Oxbridge graduates typically earn 8 per cent more than the graduates of other old universities. Alumni of the former polytechnics earn about 8 per cent less. Graduates typically live in houses worth 50 per cent more than non-graduates (£153,738 to £101,309), according to Department for Education research. And 64 per cent of graduates were promoted in the past five years, against 43 per cent of others. But dealing with debts at the start of their adult lives can be difficult for graduates - whether that debt is the average £10,000 posited by NatWest, or the £12,000 calculated by the National Union of Students. Many people are postponing marriage and children in order to pay off those debts and have enough money to put down as a deposit on a house. Some people are clearly struggling. The average debt for 21-25 year olds seen by the Consumer Credit Counselling Service has risen 10 per cent to £19,110 in the past two years. And the average age of first-time buyers is rising as house prices soar above the purchasing power of most twentysomethings. In 1980, the typical first-time buyer was 29, five years younger than the current mean of 34, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML). Martin Ellis of HBOS/Halifax, the UK's largest mortgage lender, says: 'Maybe people will have to wait several years but, in time, the bulk of graduates will be able to enter the housing market.' More friends are getting together, he adds, to buy properties. In London, 4 per cent of purchases are now being done this way, according to the CML - compared with 0.8 per cent nationally in 1999 and 2.4 per cent nationally in 2001. Donna Bradshaw, of financial adviser Fiona Price & Partners, urges new graduates to think through the money issues facing them: 'Budgeting is, perhaps, the most important thing. Graduates have to learn how to manage their money. The problems come when people build up more and more debt.'