Is the Royal College of Music really ‘underperforming’?

female_grad_earnThe Department of Education and the Institute for Fiscal Studies have a report out on graduate earnings. The plot for average graduate earnings for women, 5 years after graduation is above (it is Figure 9 of the report, the plot for men is similar). Graduate earnings vary widely by course and by institution — the two are strongly correlated of course, the degrees the London School of Economics (LSE) offers are very different from those offered by the Royal College of Music (shown as ‘RC Music’ above).

The LSE attracts many ambitious economics students, who on graduation go on to work in finance in London. I know less about the Royal College of Music, but I assume most undergraduates there are doing Bachelor of Music degrees, which as you would expect combine learning a musical instrument at a very high level, with lectures on theory and history of music, I guess. The graduates then, I assume, go off to work in orchestras etc.

So when I look at the plot above, I see a reflection of the fact that in the UK, even very average economists working in a bank, hedge fund etc, in London, earn a lot more than even a very talented oboe player, particularly as I am afraid many oboe players may not be in full time employment. The mean earnings of about £12,000 a year for Royal College of Music graduates looks like it is too low to be made up entirely of people in full-time employment.

But my boss, the Minister for Universities, Science, Innovation, Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah, appears to have a different perspective. In a recent speech, he said;

“Creative arts degrees at some universities leads to salaries at least 44% lower than the average graduate – approximately £11,000 per year.”


“The clutch of underperforming degrees is a problem for students – it is likely they include many of the courses whose students feel they are not getting value for money.”

although to be fair on him, he is also specifically thinking of variations in earnings for the same degree at different institutions:
“These findings demonstrate that studying the same subject at a different institution can yield a very different earnings premium. The choices that students make about what and where to study does matter.”

Sam Gyimah is right, the data is in the report and some of it is above: Graduates in different degrees from different universities earn very different salaries. But I would disagree that the creative arts degrees are ‘underperforming’. If a smart 18-year-old wants to be a violinist, and appreciates that this is unlikely to make them rich, then surely if the Royal College of Music teaches them to be a really good violinist, then it is doing its job.

The salaries of graduates are out of the hands of universities, we can only teach students the best we can to be violinists, economists, physicists, … then British society sets the salaries each of these professions gets.


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