By Benjamin Salmon, Second Year Politics and International Relations
Graduate schemes must diversify their intake and improve the job market's equal access, or else be viewed as an elitist institution in an unfair society.
If there is one thing almost all Bristol students lament over, it is the brutal competition for the prized places on graduate schemes.
With the job market improving since the Financial Crash and the emergence of an increasingly overly-saturated graduate talent pool, there has become an intense contest for places at everyone’s favourite management consultancy or ‘Magic Circle’ law firm.
While some relish this rivalry, many do not have the time, money or resources to compete – and this shows an inherent problem with the graduate schemes themselves. These schemes need to change their philosophy or risk becoming a poignant symbol of this country’s growing economic inequality.
Access to education is already one of the most important determinates of life outcomes.
The University of Bristol itself is guilty of perpetuating this, accepting a proportion of students from independent schools over five times the national percentage.
This discrepancy carries through when finding that perfect post-university graduate placement. In a recent survey of 38 employers across 17 sectors detailing the educational background of recent graduate employees, 57 per cent went to state school, compared to 93 per cent nationally. This divide is made worse when employers target the top universities, like Bristol, and court their best students, of which many are privately educated, leaving many bright but less well-connected students behind in the rat race.
These schemes need to change their philosophy or risk becoming a poignant symbol of this country’s growing economic inequality.
There are, of course, many programmes and campaigns in these top companies to improve diversity and access to the job market for less-privileged students.
However, with 38 per cent of the adult population now made up of graduates, compared to 17 per cent in the early-1990s, the level of competition permits those with access to extra help – be it connections through school, the time and money for extra tutoring or simply the ease of having some free time – an unfair leg-up in the battle for graduate recruitment.
So how can the process of finding a good job after university become more accessible?
For starters, the education system itself often preferences the well-connected, well-funded and the nepotistic over the genuinely talented, with the persistence of private schooling.
Access to higher education in the UK, as mentioned, is still an incredibly unjust process for those with the bright spark but who lack the resources to fulfil that potential. While the debate over private education is one for another time, there needs to be serious contemplation over how schools play a part in persisting the cycles of poverty and privilege that ultimately lead to those with greater opportunity enjoying an advantage in graduate recruitment.
Another way is through making the top firms diversify their talent pool by looking for flair at weaker universities.
There is a perception amongst the upper echelons of society that non-Russell Group universities are void of any talent, but this is simply not the case. Many students with the ability to be great lawyers, journalists or consultants but who lack the means to manifest it will utilise these universities because of the sheer fact that they are more likely to be accepted there. The graduate recruitment schemes focus much of their energy at the universities well-endowed with a privileged few, neglecting the talent found at other, less reputable, institutions.
If graduate schemes are to become fairer and ultimately better, they need to look past the tried-and-tested, high-stakes competition of the best universities. Further, the schooling system needs to find ways to widen its intake and break the cycle of poverty – ultimately leading to a graduate environment where more people have equal access to good firms.
Universities and the government need to realise these problems and make access to a good education, and thus to good graduate employment, a more equal endeavour.
Featured Image: Unsplash/Patricia Beatrix Villanueva
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