Top apprentices can earn more than graduates


Apprentices with the highest qualifications can earn £50,000 more than a university graduate over the course of their lifetime, new research claims.

But those who gain a degree from a top institution – including Oxford and Cambridge – are still likely to have the highest earnings, it suggests.

Those apprentices who train up to a level five qualification stand to take home almost £1.5m in the course of their career on average, beating the typical person with an undergraduate degree from a non-Russell Group institution.

The study, published by the Sutton Trust, argues that a high-quality apprenticeship offers as much financial security as many undergraduate degrees, and warns that a cultural change is needed to raise the status of these vocational courses.

It calculates that youngsters who opt to study for a Level 5 higher apprenticeship – equivalent to a foundation degree – will earn around £1.44 million over their lifetime, almost £52,000 more than a student who studies at a non-Russell Group university – considered among the best institutions in the UK. These graduates can expect to take home around £1.39 million.

Students who graduate from a Russell Group university will earn around £1.6 million, the study shows – around £160,000 more than someone who does a higher apprenticeship and around £212,000 more than a student who did not attend a top university.

Those who gained a degree from Oxford and Cambridge have the highest earnings power, with average lifetime earnings of around £1.79 million. This is around £190,000 more than other Russell Group graduates, around £351,000 more than a higher apprenticeship and almost £403,000 more than someone who went to a non-Russell Group university.

About 10,000 higher apprenticeships are undertaken each year, the report says, and are available at different levels, including foundation level, undergraduate degree and masters.

The report claims that according to the latest data, less than a third (32%) of apprenticeship starts have been by under 19-year-olds, while research suggests that the most elite apprenticeships are taken by those from wealthier backgrounds, rather than poorer youngsters.

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: “If undergraduate degrees are seen as a gold standard, these vocational qualifications are too often seen as ‘second best’, or a ‘fall back option’.

“But some of the UK’s most famous and successful entrepreneurs were formerly apprentices – from the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to the billionaire jeweller Lawrence Graff to the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

“Success can come through apprenticeships, but work is needed to boost their quantity and quality and change their public perception.”

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