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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 23:39 GMT 00:39 UK
Graduate recruitment 'elitist'
Report challenges notion of degree being a key to success
Widening higher education access has done little to help working class graduates get top jobs, a new report says.

It accuses graduate recruitment of being elitist, and says positive discrimination should be introduced.

Many employers want to encourage diversity, but this is not reflected by fast-track schemes.

And disappointment will increase in the future - if policies are not changed.

Congested marketplace

More than a third of school leavers are attempting to win a university place.

Recruitment trends
"Oxbridge Man" is no longer the gold standard in a number of organisations
"Gentlemen" are losing out to female and male "players", who combine elite credentials with dynamism
Graduates must package their skills to demonstrate management skills
Graduates will have to be "players" to succeed

But the research for the Economic and Social Research Council says that widening access to higher education has "done little to increase the chances of working class candidates entering elite jobs."

Professor Phil Brown from Cardiff University and co-author of the report, says: "It is very difficult for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain elite credentials let alone the 'social 'education that is a crucial feature of elite employability."

It says "fast track" recruitment tends to rest on taking the safest options, because of recruitment costs.

"That sometimes rules out people from disadvantaged backgrounds," says Professor Brown.

A large proportion of graduates from working class backgrounds attend new universities - but they are at a double disadvantage because fast-track recruiters are not always prepared to take risks.

One employer surveyed received more than 14,000 applications for 400 places.

If we have to positively discriminate, then so be it
Professor Phil Brown

Graduates applying from Oxford University had a one in eight chance of success, the ratio offered for those applying from new universities was one in 235.

"If employers are talking about diversity, then that means they have got to change the way they employ graduates."

"I don't think it's a politics of envy. I think it is a politics of social justice. If we have to positively discriminate, then so be it," says Professor Brown.

Doubly difficult

Graduates are increasingly coming up against a "congested marketplace", when they look for jobs after university.

They must compete in a market where "being good is not good enough".

Managing graduate expectations will become an even bigger issue in the future, as university access widens further.

Professor Brown said he was not against widening access to education, but said it was being mis-sold, on the basis of greater earning potential.

"The jobs are not there in sufficient quantities," he says.

Your comments:

I feel into the trap when I graduated in 2002. Graduate jobs wouldn't take me because I was from a new university and non-graduate jobs wouldn't take me because I was over qualified.
Howard Gees, UK

Those of us with working class backgrounds who went to University back in the 1970's have found this to be very true. We do not earn significantly more than those who got in to similar employment, but left school at 18 (or even 16). And those who left have had three (or five) more years of earning power than us, their kids have often flown the nest, plus they have a better chance of a comfortable early retirement due to having more years in the Pension scheme. University is certainly not worth it, especially with fees and without a grant - yet I am about to make the mistake a second time - by continuing to encourage my daughter to go on to further education.
Peter Judge, W. Yorks, UK

Surely jobs have to be based on merit and suitability for the post. Education needs to be improved to enable people from "working class" backgrounds to compete for elite jobs. Positive discrimination does not work and lowers standards, the harsh reality is companies want the best people working for them regardless of background.
Ben, England

I totally agree, when I left university I found graduate recruitment and incredibly difficult process and eventually found a job without going through a dedicated graduate scheme. Even placement students who are sponsored are not ensured a graduate position.
David Elkington, UK

I graduated from Newcastle University and one of my worst memories was going down to London for an interview with a merchant bank in 1993. I spent eight hours on a train to have a 30 minute interview, which concentrated on questions such as "What does your father do?", "What does your mother do?" and "What does your sister do?". To make matters worse, it then took over 6 weeks to be reimbursed for my train ticket from Newcastle to London, at a time when I was not exactly awash with money.
Anthony, England, UK

I totally agree with the findings presented in this article. I attended several job interviews before finally securing a research job in Dundee. Three interviewers told me to my face that they did not like my character (as I am a working class Scot). At an assessment centre (I will not give details), I came second-top, but I was still rejected; when I enquired about this, I was told that I "did not fit in". Working class kids are wasting their time at university if this sort of thing goes on all the time.
Malcolm Sutherland, Scotland

I just hope that this government takes a long hard look at what the report is saying. It shows what most reasonably intelligent people could have predicated, that current policy on higher education is fundamentally flawed. There is intense competition within the job market for top graduates and suggesting that having a degree automatically attracts significant rewards is just plain nonsense. At the end of the day the individuals have to prove themselves, and a degree is only a part of a process, not an end.
David W., UK

I don't see the problem with graduates from Oxford getting more of the better jobs than graduates from a 'new university'. After all the Oxford students got there by getting better A-level grades, and are more committed to studying and more intelligent. Oxford provides a better education than a new university.
Griff, UK

All degrees are not equal. The quality of students and graduates at some universities is higher than others. Employers have to choose the best candidates, and that almost always means those from better (usually older) universities. "Disadvantaged" students in particular need to be encouraged to go to the best university and course they can.
Tom di Giovanni, UK

I think positive discrimination is a ridiculous idea. Why should middle class graduates be penalised for being middle class and for working to get the grades to get into a traditional university? That way, you still have exactly the same bigotry as before, only reversed.
Vicky, UK

I was shocked when I moved to the UK in a management position. The first time I sat on a short listing panel, we vetted over 400 applications for 20 positions. The other members of the panel consistently rejected applicants because they were graduates of newer universities. That said, I recently was invited to give two lectures at a former poly, and the experience was grim, due to disinterested lecturers and students, as well as poor organisation. Clearly we have a challenge.
Anonymous, UK

Having graduated from university with a law degree two years ago I'm struggling to get any job at all, often being refused on the grounds of lack of experience. Where and when am I going to gain the experience if I cant get a job? I also find that I'm being rejected as I'm over qualified. I sometimes truly wish I had not gone to university as I owe money to student loans. I do think it's getting harder for graduates to get any job let alone a suitable one, I should know as I've applied for trainee jobs at 10k a year and have been refused.
Imme, UK

I'm from a working class background and also attended a new university. I applied for approximately 15-20 fast track schemes on leaving university. Of which 80% of employers didn't give me an interview, but three (all FTSE 100 companies) did give me a chance. I was offered a position on all of the schemes. Obviously I'm a lucky one, however I definitely experienced elitism at every step in the recruitment process. Even more so when you actually get into the company and realise that it is generally Oxbridge people cluttering middle to upper management.
Steve, England

The simple fact of the matter is there are only a few high paid jobs out there that make University worth while. I think it is wrong of the government to portray University as the right move for everyone.
Andy, UK

I graduated in 1997 from a new university and went to the obligatory milk round graduate recruitment drives. There were a number of top companies there that were very interested in my application, until I mentioned that I was from a new university and then the attitude changed and I got the distinct impression that it was a 'don't call us we'll call you' situation. I totally agree that it is harder for students that have studied at a new university to find a graduate job.
Kirsten, England

I now have a good job with an investment bank which is down to hard work and application. I now take part in graduate recruitment, and the widening of higher education just means more candidates of a poor calibre, making it hard to find the good ones. University should be all about finding and developing the best, and by definition should be kept exclusive and elitist.
Nick, UK

Employers want to use the people who will most advance their business. If they make the mistake of thinking that talent will only come from a certain background, their company will underperform because they have not researched the whole of the talent pool. Positive discrimination makes exactly the same error, but in the opposite direction.
Ian Ward, UK

I couldn't agree more with the report. I graduated in 1995 with a first class degree from a new university and thought employers would be fighting hard for my service. I couldn't be more wrong, I wasn't socially polished enough for them. My husband also graduated form the same university with a 2:1 but found it hard. He even got to the final stages in some cases, but he wasn't polished enough even though he scored the highest mark in their graduate test.
Fola Okun, UK

I went to a new university thinking "a good degree is a good degree", but sometimes I wonder if it was worth it. I am now working for a local authority alongside people my age, who started straight from school, but have three years more experience and probably at least as much chance of getting another job.
Liz, UK

All this talk of discrimination is rubbish. Elite employers look for bright, enthusiastic and talented graduates. I work for a city bank and at no point during the recruitment process was anything other than my skills and competencies discussed. I got my job through sheer hard work and dedication. People seem to expect everything to be handed to them on a plate these days...In fact, I fit into lots of the so called "disadvantaged" groups - single parent family, state school, female, etc... And I turned out OK! People should stop expecting allowances to be made for them all the time, and knuckle down to some hard work... If you do that the world is your oyster!
Kirsty, England

I have found that going to Oxbridge will definitely get you through the screening process of applications but when it comes to interview you need to show a lot more than a good "social background". I strongly believe that if you are good enough you will get the job, as for people applying from new universities you just have to make sure that your application form has more extra curriculum activities to counter act the lesser university.
Matt, England

I agree with Ben from England, candidates must be selected for positions on merit alone. However, companies are scared to take risks, and rightly so. The vast majority of graduates are ill-equipped to enter the work place. University administrators seem blind to what is expected by companies, and so churn out a multitude of students who cannot even write a proper covering letter. Their communication skills seem non-existent and their university course content seemed irrelevant to industry's requirements. The fact is that we are getting students that are not qualified to do much at all. Students need to be informed of what is required of them at an early stage, so that they will not be sidelined and so that they can make better decisions for furthering their careers. (Also I feel fighting a fire by using positive discrimination is not a realistic or welcome alternative, 95% of companies will chose the best candidate all the time).
Martin, , UK

In my experience the greatest factor in getting a graduate job is not which university you went to but what experiences you have had outside university. I graduated with straight A's at A level and a good law degree from an "Old" university and found it impossible to even get an interview for graduate traineeships. I took stock and decided to take an admin job in an office and re-apply the next year. The response I got from firms when I re-applied was overwhelmingly different and I got a traineeship in the end with a firm which had refused even to interview me the previous year. My academic qualifications had not changed. The only thing which had changed was that I had a year of work experience behind me and although not a graduate job, it provided me with many marketable skills and experiences.
Liz, UK

I'm a female studying for an engineering degree and had to fight for a place on my company's sponsorship course. I had a male interviewer, and I fought for my place not on the basis of my gender, but because of my conviction that I could do the job as well as any man. I'm still here.
Jenny, UK

Students, whatever background they are from, study Mickey-mouse subjects like media studies, which are a waste of time, at new universities. There are not enough graduate jobs for even a third of the UK's young people, who currently attend university-let alone the governments target of half, which explains why many graduates end up working as shop or office assistants. Therefore the governments target to expand higher education should be scrapped.
John, Surrey

Many of the complainants above from 'new' universities should probably realise that their job applications were unsuccessful because the spelling, grammar and punctuation on CVs and application forms was indicative of their level of education. I am from a lower middle-class background. Some of us attended university to work hard and thereby achieve degrees that would improve our chances of obtaining worthy graduate employment. Higher education is no guarantor of a job; maximise your potential while you have the opportunity and then you may have something about which to feel aggrieved!
Des, UK

I am from a working-class background myself, having grown up in a pretty grim council estate. However, I cannot accept that so-called positive discrimination is the answer, no matter what other measures may be enacted. The problem lies in the fact that "positive" discrimination rarely is. Fairness and equality of opportunity have to be key - not artificially weighting the situation towards those perceived to be disadvantaged. This merely adds another level of bias on top of the whole mess, addressing a symptom and not a cause.
Simon, UK

Both my husband and myself come from working class backgrounds and went to Polytechnics as they were then, neither of us have had difficulties in recruitment. However both of us had work experience in our chosen industry by the time we graduated. This I believe made the difference at interview plus a willingness to go outside of our home county. More companies should offer work during the long holidays to give undergraduates some experience before they hit the job market. My belief is that now there are simply too many graduates chasing fewer jobs. As one of your other responders admitted I too can see no way for my kids to get on except thru uni with the horrible debt that will incur.
Jannette, UK

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