A degree is worth an average €106,000 in a university graduate's pocket, rising to more than double, €220,000, if they go all the way to a PhD.
The figures represent the average value of a third-level qualification over a lifetime, when compared with a school-leaver and take account of the cost of college and deductions such as tax.
The graduate earnings premium is among a series of figures set out in a new report outlining the annual €9bn financial benefit the universities bring to the economy and society.
The study, the first such report on the sector, assesses the value of universities across a range of areas. The €9bn payback includes €2.8bn in direct employment and knock-on business, €2.6bn in the lifetime income gain for each years' graduates, €1.6bn in the lifetime gain to the Exchequer from higher taxes paid by each year's graduates, €1.5bn from research and development and €386m from international students.
The research was conducted by consultants Indecon on behalf of the Irish Universities Association (IUA), which is engaged in a major campaign for a step-up in State funding.
IUA director general Jim Miley said it showed universities were not only centres of innovation, producing well-rounded, employable graduates, but also generated "a cash surplus for the State over the long-term".
"This surely provides a compelling case to prioritise the reform of the funding model for higher education," he said.
Going to College
Students who achieve a minimum H6 grade (40p-49pc) in higher level maths at Leaving Cert receive 25 bonus CAO points. This has been practice since 2012 and has had the desired effect of increasing the uptake of students taking the subject at 'honours' level.