· 2 min read · Features

A-level results: Students without a university place provide a diverse pool of potential recruiters should target

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Following the release of this year's A-level results, there are a record number of students that haven't secured a place at university. Instead, they are being forced to take an unplanned gap year and re-apply in 2011.

This not only affects hundreds of thousands of applicants, but also has strong implications for those from a black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background – not just for this year, but potentially for the rest of their lives.
 
Much of the advice being given to students left without a place at university for this September, including from the Association of Graduate Recruiters, is to use the gap year to gain valuable experience that will serve to strengthen their applications to university next year. This experience could be in the form of work experience, internships or voluntary work, and has the added benefit of helping to secure that all- important first graduate job.
 
While this is good advice for those that are able to take a year out, it is not always a realistic option for individuals from a BAME background. BAME applicants from underprivileged backgrounds will simply not be able to afford to work for free during their enforced gap year. The concern here is that in order to earn enough to support themselves through this time they may be forced to enter a discipline that isn’t their career of choice – which immediately stacks the odds against them when they come to re-applying for university.

For a number of BAME applicants, they are the first in their family to even apply to university and the dearth of places could have serious implications on whether these students do re-apply, or whether they simply decide not to enter higher education at all. This is bad news for the UK as it could mean a reversal in an otherwise positive move forward for higher education institutions in recent years, which was highlighted in Race for Opportunity’s 2009 report ‘A Race into Higher Education’. The report found that on the whole, British ethnic minorities are better represented in higher education than their share of the general population.
 
When we consider that the make-up of the British population is certain to change, it is imperative that universities and organisations ensure that today’s new intake of graduates is genuinely diverse. Forecasts from Leeds University earlier this year show that the make-up of the British population is certain to change substantially over the coming decades. The study predicts that the proportion of BAME individuals will rise from 8% of the population, as recorded in the 2001 census, to 20% by 2051, with the country’s overall population reaching nearly 78 million - up from 59 million in 2001.
 
The changing face of Britain presents a real opportunity for HR departments to take advantage of a widening talent pool. HR professionals need to be the vanguards in ensuring that all recruitment processes are fully open to BAME candidates, and that organisations are proactively locating and nurturing the best talent - from all sectors of British society. By offering mentoring schemes and support during this period for individuals that haven’t made it to university, companies can focus their efforts on locating individuals that have great potential, but have simply been unlucky in the university application process this year. Wherever possible, funding at some level should be provided for work experience and intern placements where the candidates are from a less privileged background.
 
Organisations naturally seek to recruit stand-out graduates and this often requires the candidate to have relevant work experience. Yet due to basic financial constraints this is not always a viable option for career minded individuals that happen to come from underprivileged backgrounds. Following today’s results, HR departments should align their recruitment processes to include students that have not yet started a university degree to ensure they are targeting a wide talent pool and not missing out on a large proportion of society. This is the best way they can aim for their workforce to be truly reflective of UK’s society.

Sandra Kerr, national director, Race for Opportunity