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Alice Oliver looks into the reality of nepotism and graduate recruitment.

With one of the highest private school intakes in the country – at roughly 40 per cent – there is no lack of Bristol students with family connections in top professions. However, many Bristol students may feel an acute disparity between the opportunities afforded to them and those open to their more fortunate peers.

Given that only seven per cent of people in the UK are privately educated, their dominance of the professions paints a poor picture of social mobility. Nepotism presents a crucial problem both in securing internships and in the graduate job market. Those educated at private schools continue to hold an advantage in terms of recruitment and who you know can make all the difference in securing a job.

Professions such as law, journalism, accountancy and medicine remain largely dominated by the privately educated. A recent study by the AllParty Parliamentary Group (APPG) entitled ‘The Class Ceiling’ found that only a small percentage of firms use contextual recruitment – whereby employers evaluate applicant’s achievements in the context of their social background.

‘In 2014 70 per cent of job offers went to students educated privately or at selective state schools’

In a separate study, data collected from thirteen elite law, accountancy and financial services firms revealed that in 2014 70 per cent of job offers went to students educated privately or at selective state schools. In a study of London’s top fifteen law firms, it was revealed that 50 per cent of partners at Slaughter and May were privately educated, whereas 40 per cent of trainees at Clifford and Chance went to fee-paying schools.

The Sutton Trust’s Leading People 2016 report revealed similar findings. The report found that one third of all MPs attended independent schools, along with one third of FTSE 100 Chief Executives and three-quarters of all High Court and Appeals Court judges. Social Mobility was equally an issue in the arts sector, with two-thirds of all British Oscar winners attending private schools.

Some London firms have even been accused of implementing a ‘poshness test’, with applicants being turned away for having the wrong accent, or for seeming ‘uncomfortable’ in a suit. This continues even after employment, as studies have shown managers are more likely to promote employees from a similar background in their likeness.

‘Some London firms have even been accused of implementing a ‘poshness test’, with applicants being turned away for having the wrong accent’

‘Not only do I not have the advantages of family connections, which is how many people do seem to get jobs and internships, but especially due to my accent, I do feel at a disadvantage. There’s definitely a prejudice against non-Southern accents,’ noted a second year student from Birmingham.

Nepotism poses a problem not only in the graduate job market, but also in securing an internship. The Milburn Report of 2013 noted, ‘by and large, [internships] operate as part of an informal economy in which securing an internship all too often depends on who you know and not what you know’.

The Debrett’s Foundation found in 2012 that privately educated students were twice as likely to get prestigious internships in London, with 72 per cent of applicants admitting to using family connections in order to secure a placement. In a climate in which having a good degree from a prestigious university is no longer enough to guarantee a job following graduation, students with family connections hold a massive advantage. The experience they gain sets them considerably ahead in the job market.

However it is not simply a question of family connections; money is also a key issue. Students from lower income backgrounds are disadvantaged even further as the majority of internships are unpaid. Indeed, a Sutton Trust report in 2009 found that a six-month internship in London cost a single person living in the city a minimum of £5,556. Thus, only students with families who are able to support them financially seem to be able to take them up.

‘A Sutton Trust report in 2009 found that a six-month internship in London cost a single person living in the city a minimum of £5,556’

The current system perpetuates a vicious cycle. Unable to secure or afford internships, students from lower income backgrounds could find themselves at a serious disadvantage in the job market, as they have neither contacts nor relevant experience. Intern Aware, a national campaign for paid internships, has highlighted the problem of unpaid internships, stating on their website: ‘We believe that unpaid internships are exploitative, exclusive and unfair. By asking people to work without pay, employers exclude those with talent, ambition and drive who cannot afford to work for free.’

A second year English Literature student noted, ‘A lot of graduate jobs require experience – there’s a never ending cycle, it’s really hard. Education isn’t just enough, you need something extra, which is difficult to gain without family connections. It makes sense; you trust people you know to do a better job. It’s so unfair, but obviously if you’re offered an internship, you’re going to take it. I know some people who have incredible advantages – links with city lawyers or connections in the banking industry’.

There have been some advances in this area – in the wake of recent backlash against nepotistic firms, many employers have begun to implement equal access schemes. For example, The Law Society runs a Diversity Access Scheme that provides not only financial support for Legal Practice Course fees, but also provides successful applicants with an industry mentor and access to relevant work experience. The NHS similarly runs a Widening Access Scheme.

Equally, the University of Bristol Internship Scheme offers paid work experience with SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) in the UK. The internships, open to all students, run for a minimum of four weeks, and are all payed at at least the National Living Wage. They are also open to graduates up to six months after graduation.

‘The University of Bristol Internship Scheme offers paid work experience with SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) in the UK’

However, some students still feel there is a lack of information regarding internships: ‘I never considered an internship before university; you just don’t get told about them. I found out through friends more than anything else. You have to be so proactive to go to the careers advisor, nothing is handed to you.’ The recent APPG report has called for the government to do more to increase social mobility and access to the professions.

Justin Madders, MP and Chair of the APPG on social mobility stated, ‘We know that social mobility at the top of UK society is shamefully low. Throughout this inquiry we have heard from profession after profession that significant barriers exist to young people from less advantaged…If the current government is serious about improving access to top jobs for those from less advantaged homes, they need to take ” a much more strategic approach. This means linking the work of schools, universities and employers to build a real business case and practical plan for improving social mobility’.


Do you think nepotism is fair or outrageous? Let us know in the comments or via social media links below. 

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