Are you considering a science degree? If so then the BBC has a finance calculator on its website designed for students in the UK who could be going off to Uni in September 2012. This is designed to help students get an idea of how much it they will ultimately pay back for their course.

Why am I writing about this?
Well I saw the article on the website and noticed the calculator has a choice of Science Professional for the job students might hope to do when they graduate. I am a science professional and wondered what the BBC thought I should be earning. Whoever the BBC spoke to is getting paid a lot more than me!

The website states that “the calculator uses estimates of predicted lifetime earnings based on the career areas people are considering pursuing, their age and sex. All the figures are based on averages” and “the calculator is designed to provide a general illustration of cost of financing in various scenarios, rather than to give precise predictions of how much individuals will have to pay.”

When I entered course details for a 3 year degree and the aim of becoming a science professional the calculator tells me I will pay back £36,448 over the next 23 years.

So how much does the Beeb reckon I get paid?
Interestingly the predicted salary for a nearly 40 year old (birthday in 6 weeks) is £64,259. At 39 it is “only” £49,071 so I am looking forward to a £15,188 pay rise!

This is ludicrous, only a handful of my peers earn anywhere close to this, most are post-docs on quite a bit less. The few science grads that make it to becoming a PI might get a salary like this but the rest of us are paid reasonable, but certainly much lower salaries. Where do the BBC get their figures from?

From the ONS apparently, who say that Science and Technology Professionals earn an average of £36,313. The BBC website average is £42,477 so the authors might want to check their figures.

The calculator uses median earnings, fairer than a mean but I still find it hard to believe the figure is as high as this for the people I work with day to day.

Genome Technology have been running salary surveys for some time; 2011 $62,500, 2010 $55,000, 2009 $55,000 and 2008 $60,000. Their data suggest a figure averaged over the last four years of about $58,000 or £35-40,000.

What about the girls?
The calculator allows you to state whether you are male or female. When I swapped sexes (just for this experiment of course) my total pay back was about the same. However the salary I could expect to earn at 40 was £44,997; nearly £20,000 lower than the blokes.

Why do students need a loan anyway?
A student doing a three year BSc in Biology (same as me in 1992-1995) at the University of East Anglia in 2011 was paying £3375. However the fees are well hidden and it takes eight clicks to find 2012 fees which are a whopping maximum of £9,000. UEA is 27th on the complete university guide rankings. Perhaps £9000 represents value for money but a jump of 265% in fees for exactly the same course might show how broken UK University funding is! Students need to borrow £27,000 for fees, then more cash (up to £16,500) to cover accommodation and living expenses before they even start spending on beer, condoms and dope.

A little background on UK university funding for students:
1980s: Students could get grants of up to £2,265, they could even sign-on in the summer holidays. At the end of the decade loans were introduced to compensate for discontinuation of the annual increase in grants.

1990s: Loans grew and in 1997 grants were scrapped. In 1998 tuition fees were introduced at £1000.

Loans continued to grow and fees rose to £3000 per year.

2010 and on:
Today English students can borrow up to £9,000 a year to cover tuition fees, plus maintenance loans of up to £5,500 (£7,675 in London). There are then some means-tested bursaries, grants and other packages available. When they graduate they have to pay back 9% of any earnings over £21,000 and are charged interest on the loans of inflation plus 3%. After 30 years, any remaining debt is written off.

See the BBC website for more details:
Q&A: Tuition fees and more details on loans here.