How returns from tertiary education differ by field of study. Implications for policy-makers and students

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Series Details No.411, July 2015
Publication Date July 2015
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With the huge growth in enrolment in higher education, the key question facing young people today is not so much “what to study” as “whether to study”. Taking a methodologically innovative approach, this paper measures the net present value of university education and compares returns from studying a range of different subjects. We use data from 5 European countries (France, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia) and include (opportunity) costs in the computation. Results suggest that enrolling in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses is often not the best investment for students, especially female students. In choosing what to study, therefore, students are taking decisions that are consistent with their own private returns. This suggests that policymakers should consider changing the incentives offered if they wish to change students’ behaviour.

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