university degrees
With the debut of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, AI-focused degrees have caught the attention of many employers, according to a survey by Forbes Advisor. Source: AFP

You might know someone or it may seem like everyone around you has gotten the best university degrees to start a new life and an exciting career.

Within this group, there are those who have gotten the best deal of it all: a well-paid job in the UK.

It can almost feel like winning a lottery — and one at which there are better odds for you to land than an actual lottery.

But this is a journey that starts years in advance. To land one of the most coveted jobs in the UK today begins with making the right decision over what are the best university degrees for you.

In the past, degrees like medicine, law, and accounting were favourites as they were linked to high-paying progressive careers

Zazilia Rawi pursued law at Northumbria University with similar beliefs. 

“I was told before that having a law degree is advantageous due to its versatility and I would say it is true. I am not limited to any career path as long as it is relevant to the employer or industry,” she told Study International. 

But results from a survey by Forbes Advisor, a global platform dedicated to helping consumers make smart financial decisions, is turning that adage on its head. 

The best university degrees are no longer stuck in the past.

The best university degrees prepare you for the present and future

A big hint as to what the best university degrees are in 2023 to get a well-paid job in the UK can be found in the palm of your very own hands.

You’re likely reading this with a smartphone or a laptop — tech devices that now dominate and even run our lives.

In the UK, the tech ecosystem now employs three million people. The industry reached a US$1 trillion value earlier this year. The UK is one of only three countries — with China and the US — to have ever hit this valuation.

The UK is also home to more “unicorn” billion-dollar tech startups being created than Germany, France and Sweden combined.

Some of the most successful tech companies in the world that started in the UK include:

And that’s just the tech industry alone. Many sectors, from fashion to biology, need graduates who can apply scientific knowledge to create software and hardware.

The UK government has also committed to 20 billion pounds per year in R&D over the next two years.

This is a place ripe with opportunities — and it’s open for business to anyone with one of the best university degrees.

The best university degrees to get a well-paid job in the UK

In August, Forbes Advisor surveyed employees from 500 businesses to determine which degree they deem to be most valuable. They found:

  • A quarter of UK businesses (25%) named artificial intelligence (AI) focused degrees as the “most valuable” in 2023.
  • Two in five employees surveyed (40%) deemed AI expertise to be the most in-demand skill in the UK job market. 
  • Information technology (IT) and computer science degrees are still valuable to British employers. 
  • Medicine and dentistry took the fifth spot, ranking behind tech degrees. 

Respondents for this survey consisted of 500 workers ranging from employees, middle managers, and senior managers.

Below, we break down the best university degrees to pursue in 2023 according to this survey and the salaries graduates stand to earn in potential roles (based on Indeed data).

university degrees

The rise of AI and machine learning points to a growing demand for industry experts, with 96% of respondents claiming that AI will significantly affect the future job market. Source: AFP

1. Artificial intelligence (AI)

  • A quarter (25%) of businesses consider AI degrees the most valuable.
  • AI skills are highly sought-after, with two in five (40%) claiming AI to be the most in-demand expertise in the workplace.

With the introduction of ChatGPT and Bard, AI is revolutionising the way we interact with technology and harnessing the power of natural language understanding and generation to enhance many aspects of our lives.

Armed with an AI-focused degree, graduates can land roles like machine learning engineer, data scientist, AI researcher, and more, often accompanied by competitive salaries and benefits, says Holly Goldstein from Forbes Advisor. 

The rise of AI and machine learning points to a growing demand for industry experts, with 96% of respondents claiming that AI will significantly affect the future job market.

Some of the highest-paying AI jobs include data scientist (50,374 pounds per year), research scientist (35,849 pounds per year), machine learning engineer (55,775 pounds) per year and others.

university degrees

BullSequana XH3000 is a next generation hybrid exascale-class supercomputer created by French information technology service and consulting company Atos. Source: AFP

2. Information Technology

  • Technology and computing degrees take up the top five spots.
  • IT ranked second, with 21% of employers favouring it. Computer science (18%), computer engineering (17%), and cybersecurity (16%) degrees are also highly sought after.

Technology degrees have been highly sought-after for a couple of decades now, and this trend does not seem likely to change any time soon.

Kevin Pratt, Business Expert at Forbes Advisor shares: “The continued dominance of technology-related degrees, particularly those with a strong focus on AI, in the list of most valued degrees by employers underscores the profound way that AI is set to change the workplace. 

IT professionals play a crucial role in organizations, managing and maintaining technology infrastructures, including network administrators, system analysts, and IT managers.

Some of the highest-paying IT jobs include software architect (72,323 pounds per year), java developer (62,322 pounds per year), and cyber security expert (47,320 per year).

university degrees

Job stability, competitive salaries, and diverse career prospects are some reasons why many choose to pursue dentistry. Source: AFP

3. Medicine and dentistry 

  • Dentistry and medicine are ranked as the most valued non-technology degrees by employers (16%).

The enduring demand for healthcare professionals, job stability, competitive salaries, diverse career prospects, technological advancements, and societal impact contribute to this ranking.

Plus, COVID-19 underscores the ongoing need for healthcare professionals.

As such, medical degrees not only offer job security but also place you at the forefront of scientific breakthroughs.

Having a medical degree, a qualification accepted worldwide also opens up new pathways for healthcare practice in other countries.

People who specialise in dentistry combine their creative and scientific skills to help patients with their oral healthcare, including check-ups and surgeries.

Advancements in healthcare, such as breakthrough therapies and cutting-edge dental technology, make these fields dynamic and exciting.

For example, radiography, intraoral scans, and facial scans often present dental practitioners with a quantity of overwhelming and unstructured data. But AI-driven dental imaging software can help make sense of the data quickly and efficiently.

Some of the highest-paying medical jobs include medical director (103,637 pounds per year) and  neurosurgeon (94,434 pounds) per year.  Some of the highest paying dental jobs include dental technician ( 27,330 pounds per year) and dental hygienist (31.27 pounds per hour)

university degrees

Engineers are needed to invest, create, and produce groundbreaking technologies. Source: AFP

4. Engineering

  • As technology advances, the demand for skilled engineers rises, with 15% of businesses valuing engineering degrees.

Engineers are essential across sectors like healthcare, energy, transportation, and technology.

The rapid growth of emerging technologies, such as 5G, autonomous vehicles, and biotechnology, fuels the demand for more engineers to design, implement, and maintain these systems.

The best part? According to the National Society of Professional Engineers, the demand for engineers is expected to grow by 4% from 2019 to 2029, which is in line with the average growth rate for all occupations.

With experience and expertise, engineers often can climb the career ladder and earn even more.

Some of the highest-paying engineering jobs include electronic engineers (40,713 pounds per year), chemical engineers (37,542 pounds per year), and petroleum  engineers (45,469 pounds per year).

Lawyers are needed to represent individuals or organisations in a court of law. Source: AFP

5. Law

  • Law professions are among the most in-demand and well-paid jobs, valued by 11% of businesses.

Competition may be fierce, but the rewards justify it. You won’t have to worry about losing your job either, since regular individuals, businesspeople, and companies will always need lawyers.

Some of the highest-paying law jobs include intellectual property paralegal (56,191 pounds per year), patent attorney (69,396 pounds per year), corporate lawyer (69,652 pounds per year) and others

Can rankings accurately tell you what are the best university degrees?

For the longest time, university rankings have formed the crux of many student’s decision-making processes.

There are good reasons for this. From research data to student satisfaction, these rankings are an indication of an institution’s reputation and standing on a global or national scale of higher education.

It’s precisely why rankings from a reputable media and publishing company like Forbes matter.

Still, it’s important to look at how the results for these rankings are collected.

Take Forbes’s college rankings, for example. 

It uses several tools across different platforms and metrics that tackle five categories: student satisfaction (25%), post-graduate success (32.5%), student debt (25%), graduation rate (7.5%), and academic success (10%). 

US World News and Report compiled their 2022-23 rankings using factor which includes:

  • Graduation rates
  • First-year retention rates
  • Graduation rate performance
  • Pell graduation rate and performance 
  • Graduate indebtedness average and proportion
  • Class size
  • Faculty salaries
  • Faculty with terminal degree
  • Student-faculty ratio
  • Proportion of faculty who are full-time
  • Expert opinion 

Some institutions, such as Yale and Harvard, announced in two separate statements posted on their websites that they would be withdrawing from the US News and World Report rankings for law schools in the US.

Among others, both law school deans slammed the ranking methodology used by the publication, which devalued the law school’s effort to recruit poor and working-class students. 

Yale and Harvard’s provision of need-based financial aid and encouraging students to go into low-paid public service law after graduation are often ignored as well. 

Interestingly, US News and World Report told The New York Times in an email: “The rankings are a start, not an answer. Our mission is, and has always been, to provide data on schools for prospective students and their families.”

Our advice? It’s best to take these rankings with a pinch of salt and use them to guide your decision-making process instead of relying on them as a source of information.