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White male graduates from older universities profit more from business degrees, finds research

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The careers of women and people from ethnic minorities who have taken business studies degrees lag behind those of their white male equivalents, research reveals.

The Bristol-based University of the West of England studied questionnaire responses by 1016 people who graduated with first degrees in business studies or management from UK universities in 1999. In 2003, they gave their assessment of how useful their degree had been in their career and how their careers were progressing four years after graduation.

Business studies and management degrees did not benefit women as much as men - by 2003, women graduates in full-time employment reported that they earned around £3,400 less on average than men, a 15% gap. This was partly because more women worked in the lower-paid public sector, but even in careers where there were equal numbers of both sexes, women earned less. The research also showed that women put as great a value on earnings as men, so their attitudes to the job did not account for the disparity. Only a quarter of women were in managerial posts, compared with over a third of men and 24% of women were in non-graduate jobs, compared with 17% of men.

Minority ethnic graduates reported that in their jobs in 2003 they earned an average of around £22,000 compared with almost £27,000 reported by white business studies/management graduates. Only 11% of minority ethnic graduates reported being 'very satisfied' with their careers, compared with 26% of white graduates. Only 44% of minority ethnic graduates were in a job requiring a degree, compared with 63% of white graduates.

Nick Wilton, senior lecturer of HR management at Bristol Business School at the University of West England, who carried out the research, also found that graduates from older universities, which have a higher proportion of middle-class students, had salaries averaging £29,000, compared with £25,400 for those from newer universities.

Graduates from newer universities were more than twice as likely to be in non-graduate jobs as those from older universities. According to Wilton, the research calls into question the idea that higher education can create a more equal labour market simply by seeking to develop in students the skills that employers often claim are in short supply among new graduates.

Wilton said: "This evidence suggests that the entrenched proclivity for particular types of graduates in the labour market still appears to represent a considerable obstacle for the 'new' graduate labour supply, even where graduates report the development of the skills often demanded by employers.

"This was particularly apparent in the cases of female and minority ethnic graduates and those who study at a new university, where the contrast between reported employability development and employment outcomes was most marked.

"The data suggest that the development of employability skills in higher education appears far from a panacea for unequal labour market opportunity.

"These findings, therefore, raise important concerns about the efficacy of the policy focus on the explicit development of employability skills as an effective means to address social group disadvantage in the graduate labour market."