An increasing number of UK university students are staying on after their bachelors' degrees to complete postgraduate masters and doctorate courses, says a study by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and reported on by Tim Ross at the Telegraph.
Employers are increasingly seeking more highly qualified staff and typically pay workers with postgraduate courses 13 per cent more than those with first degrees only, the research found.
Last week figures showed that universities were facing their largest fall in applications for 30 years after a rise in tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year.
The study will add to growing concerns that many prospective students may decide to spur university and pursue work-based development instead.
Workers with degrees have traditionally been paid better than those without. But the research from Prof Stephen Machin of University College London and Joanne Lindley from the University of Surrey found a significant gap opening between employees with one degree and those with higher qualifications, writes Ross.
"Employers are increasingly demanding postgraduates," the researchers said, adding that postgraduates have "significantly strengthened their relative wage position". In 1996, postgraduates were typically paid 6 per cent more than workers with first degrees only, but by 2009, this earnings "gap" had widened to 13 per cent.
More than a third of graduates now have a postgraduate qualification, with 37 per cent of graduates possessing a further degree in 2009, compared with 30 per cent in 1996. According to research, those with postgraduate degrees are on average carrying out jobs that involve significantly more complex tasks than people with just one degree.
"In key skills areas, the levels are significantly higher for postgraduates," said the report. "For example, postgraduates have higher numeracy levels (especially advanced numeracy), higher levels of analysing complex problems and more specialist knowledge or understanding."
This comes after a survey of bosses shows that a growing number of British students are not graduating with adequate or basic skills to contribute to the workforce.
Researchers found that thousands of young people arrive at interviews without the "vital employability skills" required by employers such as having a suitable grasp of English, being punctual and having a general "can do" attitude.
Compounding the current recruitment crisis affecting young people from teenage school leavers through to university graduates.
Postgraduates have also benefited most from the increased demand for workers with computer skills over the past 15 years.
"Postgraduate and college-only [first degree] workers both report high levels of computer usage, but using computers to perform complex tasks is markedly higher among the postgraduate group," the study said. "The principal beneficiaries of the computer revolution have not been all graduates, but those with postgraduate qualifications."