Press release

million+ comment on Sutton Trust report on apprenticeship vs degree earnings

09 Oct 2015

The university think-tank million+ has challenged the suggestion of the Sutton Trust that apprentices are likely to earn more over their lifetimes than graduates from non-Russell Group universities. million+ points out that the additional premium applies only to a very small group of Level 5 apprenticeships and is in part accounted for by their earlier entry into the labour market. The majority of apprentices study at Level 2 but even when the projected lifetime earnings of apprentices studying at Level 3 and above are compared to the earnings of graduates from universities other than the Russell Group, those with a degree have an earnings lead over apprentices. 

Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of the university think-tank million+ said:

“Lifetime earnings are affected by a range of factors, not least social background and some students enter university with many more advantages than others.

“Britain needs a highly skilled workforce but it is wrong to cherry pick a very small group of apprentices and compare their earnings with those of the majority of graduates.

"The reported advantage in earnings of this small number of Level 5 apprentices is partly a product of the head start provided by them beginning to earn earlier in their careers.

“When disaggregated by year, degrees from universities other than the Russell Group regain their lead in earnings over all types of apprenticeship. These modern universities are also world-leaders in delivering high quality professional and technically focused degrees and programmes where people can work and study at the same time.”


Notes to Editors

1. For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Pam Tatlow on 020 7717 1658 or email
2. million+ is a leading university think-tank. More information can be found at
3. The Sutton Trust report, Levels of Success: The Potential of UK Apprenticeships, published on 9th October, concludes that a Level 5 apprentice will earn more than a non-Russell Group degree holder; however, the report also concludes that a non-Russell Group graduate will still earn marginally more than a level 4, and significantly more than a Level 3.
4. When grouped together as a level 3+ Apprenticeship, the research found that an undergraduate with a degree outside of Oxbridge will earn more.
5. The research shows that it is mostly about the head start earned early in the career – the research takes lifetime to start from the age of 21, and concludes that the Level 5 advantage is “partly a product of the head start that is provided by beginning to earn earlier”. The report also concludes that when disaggregated by year, the non-Russell Group degree regains its lead in earnings over all types of apprenticeship.