Pay analysis intended to guide students in choosing tertiary courses.

How much is your degree worth? New data has revealed how much graduates are earning up to nine years after gaining their degree, with some qualifications securing tens of thousands of dollars extra in pay.

It is hoped the information will help school pupils and their parents to decide on a "prosperous" tertiary education path, with many students set to take on huge debt to cover tertiary loans.

Those studying health-related degrees, engineering and information technology are among graduates who can expect the most financial pay-off. Some will see steep pay rises inside 10 years.

Those with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering have median earnings of $44,480 one year after graduation, rising to $80,517 in year nine.

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Medical-studies graduates jump from $90,995 to $128,469, and banking and finance from $42,101 to $78,578.

Less prosperous are teachers, who start at a relatively high $43,154 but increase more slowly than other fields to earn $58,377 after nine years, and performing-arts students, who rise from $24,104 to $41,313.

The actual teacher pay-scale is higher - the median earnings are pegged to what bachelor degree a person holds, and are affected by factors including continuity of work, and place of work.

Nursing bachelors graduates have high earnings in the first five years after graduation, but earnings then drop significantly. This may be because some nurses reduce their hours to part-time because of caregiving responsibilities.

Median earnings are initially low for biological science graduates, at $32,768, but increase to $60,664 after nine years, partly due to the completion of higher-level qualifications by some.

In releasing the information, Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce said it was hoped that school students and their families would use it to decide what study will "set them up for a prosperous future".

"To some extent students will always want to follow their passion but this information will help them to see where their passion may lead them in terms of future income.

"The highest-earning qualifications include health-related fields, engineering and information technology. This underlines the importance of encouraging more students to study science, technology, engineering and maths."

The information is taken from a powerful Statistics New Zealand-run database, the Integrated Data Infrastructure, which provides earnings based on actual tax returns.

Only graduates who are working in New Zealand are included. Information about the number of hours worked is not available, so it is not possible to determine differences in wage rates.

Although data focuses on median earnings, there is significant variation in earnings at each level. For example, the upper quartile of bachelor graduates in information systems earned $95,766 in year nine; the lower quartile were on $56,242.

Not included in the information release was how much student debt graduates had taken on. The average loan balance last year was $20,371, an increase from $14,246 in 2004.

Labour Party education spokesman Chris Hipkins said such a focus on earnings took a very narrow view of the worth of education, and such statistics could be misleading.

"But what it does do is refute the arguments [Mr Joyce] was making against our three-years-free policy. If you look at somebody over the course of their working life who has received a free tertiary education, they are going to more than pay that back in the extra tax that we are going to collect from them."

Last month, Labour announced a policy to provide three years of post-school study for every person without a previous tertiary qualification.