According to a report in the Telegraph (4 March 2015), the prospect for graduates securing a career with top UK firms is brighter in 2015 than it has been for a decade. This may sound like good news for the thousand’s of students who are likely to graduate from higher education this year, but is it? Further investigation into this statement reveals that there is an imbalance in the targeting methods that top industry employers are using to recruit what they consider to be the ‘best graduates’.
The foundation of employer targeting inequality
There are around 170 universities and a further 100+ colleges of higher education in the UK. With thousand’s of students graduating from these institutions in 2015 you would think that the majority would be jumping for joy at the increase in top firms looking for suitable employee candidates. Yet it transpires that the career events and other methods being used by top employers is being tightly focused on students at universities in the top “30 or so. The 10 most often cited by employers in 2014/15 were Manchester, Nottingham, Warwick, Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, Bristol, Imperial College London, University College London and Leeds” (Julie Henry, The Telegraph), where up to 90% of students found employment.
Outside of these top 30 universities, which according to latest statistics include those listed in the table to the right, the prospects for graduate employment in some cases falls to less than 1 in 2 for students graduating from universities at the bottom of the league tables. Therefore, it can be argued that although one would assume the standard of education should be fairly standard throughout the higher education sector, a form of elitism still exists in terms of the quality of graduates in the minds of top employers. Obviously, this situation has an impact both on student university choice and the ability of lower ranking universities to attract the capital and revenue required to increase their competitiveness in terms of attracting students and partnering with commercial organisations. More importantly, as there are limited study spaces available at the top 30 institutions, it creates an environment and culture of inequality and discrimination. In other words, it is likely to make graduates from the lower positioned universities feel somewhat inferior to their peers in the top thirty group.
Is there a solution?
In an earlier media report it was suggested by a former president of Universities UK that half of the universities in the UK should be closed or merged. Although there may be an argument for reducing the numbers, the problem with this solution is that it is likely to reduce the opportunity for students to enter higher education. Perhaps the solution lies in encouraging top employers to reassess their current targeted strategy. Irrespective of the university attended, the majority of students are committed to improve their learning and use this education to secure a future career. Top firms should therefore target their recruitment strategy based on the learning outcome and skills and competences of the individual, and not use a ‘top 30’ enrolment as a starting position.
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