Postgraduate qualifications 'can boost employment credentials'

Graduates are more likely to stand out in the modern British jobs market if they seek a second degree, according to a new report.

The number of students who go on to further their education after finishing their first degree has almost trebled over the last 20 years, as an increasing amount of applicants seek to edge out the competition.

However, concerns have been raised about students from lower and middle-class families being priced out of studying for postgraduate qualifications, which could benefit those from wealthier backgrounds.

Research from the London School of Economics and Surrey University found that 11% of workers aged 26 to 60 in the UK now hold a postgraduate qualification, compared to just 4% in 1996.

This means around 2.1 million Britons currently hold a second degree, which marks a significant rise from the 600,000 postgraduates in the UK some 17 years ago.

The report said: "In the past, employers used to accept O-levels or A-levels for many jobs. More recently, a Bachelor's degree was expected.

"Now, graduates seek to distinguish themselves increasingly by acquiring a postgraduate degree.

"But as the requirements of the labour market have become more demanding, this has exacerbated educational inequalities as workers with postgraduate degrees increasingly come from richer family backgrounds."

The report claimed that many employers are offering considerably higher salaries to those who remain in education after their first degree, with some Master's graduates raking in an average of 5,500 more per annum than those who entered the workforce after graduating from university the first time.

This has a significant impact on the projected income for postgraduates, who could realistically expect to earn around 200,000 more than the standard graduate over an average 40-year working life.

However, the Sutton Trust expressed fears that this culture could lead to social inequalities, making it harder for talented students from less privileged backgrounds to gain certain qualifications and achieve their dreams.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "When I was growing up, there were many professions that were open to young people with good A-levels.

"More recently, an undergraduate degree has become essential for many of those careers. Now we find that a postgraduate degree is increasingly expected."

Copyright Press Association 2013