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Graduates call for blind recruitment practices amid concerns that university snobbery still poses a hurdle for social mobility

Four-fifths (78%) of graduates from prestigious Russell Group universities have already secured full-time work just weeks after leaving university, according to research from Milkround.

However, one in three (30%) non-Russell Group graduates are yet to find employment. The report cited that ‘tick-box exercises’ are being used to filter out candidates by university league tables.

Separate research from Milkround suggested that graduates are concerned about university snobbery when they apply for roles, and believe that firms still favour ‘posh’ institutions. Four out of five (83%) respondents said they are concerned that graduates from Russell Group institutions are favoured when it comes to applying for graduate roles.

This perceived bias is having a broader impact on some students, with two-fifths (44%) who didn’t attend Russell Group universities saying they have had to make financial sacrifices to secure their first job. Two in three (66%) graduates said they have great concern when competing for a role against those who have completed more work experience and been exposed to more networking opportunities, while almost half (48%) are worried about having less experience than other candidates.

Students are concerned that elitism will continue to affect them when they enter the workplace too, with 8% concerned they won’t get the chances they deserve because of their socio-economic background.

The findings come after research from the Department for Education identified that students attending Russell Group universities are more likely to earn a higher salary than those that don’t, despite grads paying the same fees regardless of the university that they attend.

Marketing manager at Totaljobs Group (parent company of Milkround) Georgina Brazier said that employers could miss out on talent from other universities by being too restrictive in their hiring.

“While there’s no doubt that many students dream of attending reputationally-prestigious universities such as Oxford or Cambridge, most graduates are left with the same level of debt regardless of what university they attended. The investment students make to gain their degree is substantial, and while academic success should be applauded some graduates feel the return on investment when entering the workplace should be fairer,” she said.

“There’s no doubt that Russell Group graduates make for excellent employees but it’s integral that companies do not rule out the chance to recruit fantastic grads from other universities.”

Charles Hipps, CEO and founder at talent solutions provider Oleeo, told HR magazine that he wasn't surprised by the research.

“The findings of this survey correlate strongly with our own research, which found that 70% of those being hired to some of the leading graduate employers in the UK came from Russell Group campuses. Many of these are looking at university study and classification of degree as an entry criteria,” he said.

However, Rebecca Fielding, managing director of graduate consultancy GradConsult, was sceptical of the findings and said that employers are already focused on social mobility when hiring graduates.

“I don’t know of a single graduate employer who is ranking applicants using league table positions. Social mobility and diversity are critical issues for members of the Institute of Student Employers and for UK universities – much more so than in any other global market we work in,” she told HR magazine.

“The multitude of conflated issues in this piece around socio-economic background, university choice, student debt, the variation of one university league table to another and workplace outcomes are highly complex and do not have the direct correlation indicated here. But ultimately I would agree that any employer who may be using league tables to inform its candidate shortlisting is missing out on a large, diverse and hugely talented pool of applicants.”

The Milkround research also found that many graduates want blind recruitment practices to remove bias based on gender, race or socio-economic background when joining the workforce. Two in five (41%) graduates said that employers should practise blind recruitment to create a diverse workforce and level the playing field. A quarter (24%) also called for all prerequisites to be abolished from the recruiting process (such as which university they attended).

Some large graduate recruiters such as Deloitte and the BBC are already using blind recruitment.

“Blind recruitment is necessary if businesses want to attract talent from the widest talent pool possible, with an excitingly diverse set of skills and intellects, rather than blocking perfectly good candidates because of their university or socio-economic background. It’s something that can be implemented quickly and simply for most companies,” said Brazier.

As well as blind recruiting, Hipps encouraged HR to make use of technology to remove bias.

“Algorithms can now be trained to make decisions using the evidence of abilities, competencies, skills and experience found in test scores, CVs, and application form answers without bias. This intelligent selection enhances conversions and preserves an ideal representation of hires versus applicants,” he said.

Duncan Brown, head of HR consultancy at the Institute for Employment Studies, agreed. "Outdated perceptions and biases continue to dog recruitment activity. New HR systems often now permit employers to make initial recruitment sifting gender- and personal characteristic-blind and research highlights the positive impact of doing so," he said.

However, Hipps warned that this neutrality must not be undone when candidates come for interviews. “It's important to carry that on to other social mobility criteria so that when candidates come into assessments they are not judged based on their appearance or demeanour but on people fit; do they have the skills that other successful candidates have had that will take the business forwards in the long term?”

The Milkround Candidate Compass Report 2019 surveyed 7,000 candidates between 29 April and 6 May. Further research was conducted with a pool of 1,500 recent graduates between 11 and 13 August.