It’s been a heady time for highered policy wonks and number crunchers in England with the release recently of the new Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data.

LEO is particularly interesting because it links tax data to education records, offering a new insight into how university graduates fare in the job market.

It provides information on graduate salaries by both subject and institution based on employment and earnings outcomes in 2014-15 for those who graduated in 2009, 2011 and 2013. It is broken down into 23 subject areas, and split by gender and institution.

As Universities UK’s William Hammonds writes, many of the findings are unsurprising – “Students from high tariff institutions, that select students with high prior attainment (often from backgrounds with more social capital), tend to end up earning more than those with lower prior attainment. Historians don’t earn as much as economists and creative arts students aren’t in it for the love of money …”

But what has come as a shock is that LEO has starkly revealed a gender pay gap that kicks in from the moment graduates begin work.

Writing on the UK’s highered policy analysis site Wonkhe, Catherine Boyd, Nona Buckley-Irvine and Andrew McGettigan examine the data across one year, three years and five years after graduation and find that “there are few subject areas where graduates resemble anything close to equal pay”.

Apart from English, Mass Communications, and Biological Sciences, they say, all subjects begin with a graduate gender pay gap from year one and increase over time.

One of the most surprising results is the graduate pay gap for Nursing graduates, a subject and profession dominated by women, but “only one year after graduation, men’s median salaries outperform women’s by £2,000, rising to a gap of £3,400 after three years”.

They add: “It has been well documented that there are now more women entering higher education than men, and women tend to outnumber men in most subjects of study. But we found, that as with Nursing, most subjects that have more women than men graduates continued to show a pay difference.”

The question arises, they say, as to whether universities are failing to prepare women to enter well-paying male-dominated graduate jobs.

“Law is one such example of a subject area with considerable potential for high earnings and a notable gender gap.

“While the profession is known for its underrepresentation of women in senior positions, perhaps universities could play a more proactive role in preparing women to address the imbalance.”

Arguing that the data suggests universities should consider focusing some of their employability efforts on women specifically, they ask this question –

Are universities failing to support women’s aspirations, so they are on a par with men?

What do you think?

To delve more deeply into the LEO data check out the excellent Wonkhe coverage here.