Four out of five (83%) graduates have revealed they are concerned that university graduates from the Russell Group institutions are favoured when it comes to applying for graduate roles.

Indeed, as the newest cohort of university students prepare for the start of ‘Freshers Week’, graduate job board Milkround  have found that graduates’ fears may not be misplaced, with only one in five (22%) graduates from prestigious Russell Groups yet to secure a full-time job, while one in three (30%) non-Russell Group graduates are yet to find employment. 

To add to this, 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.

The Russell Group universities are a group of 24 institutions that congregate at the top of the university league tables, with a reputation for academic excellence and a strong research remit that cover the whole of the UK from Edinburgh to Bristol, Oxford to Manchester.

However, some of the best academic universities in the country do not belong to this collective, such as Aberdeen, St Andrews, Lancaster, Bath and Loughborough; largely due to missing the research criteria.

Georgina Brazier, Graduate Jobs Expert at Milkround explains the impact this has on graduates:

“Whilst 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 or student loans (and same tuition fees) regardless of what university they attended. The investment students make to attend university and gain their degree is substantial and whilst academic success should be applauded, some graduates feel the return on investment when entering the workplace should be fairer. 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.”

The impact on graduates

Milkround’s 2019 Candidate Compass report, which investigated the views of 7,000 students and graduates, also looked into the pressure students feel when studying. Two in three (66%) grads said they have great concern when competing for a job role against those who have completed more work experience and been exposed to more networking opportunities, a 10% increase from 2018. Meanwhile, almost half (48%) are worried about having less experience than other candidates.

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Tick box exercises such as filtering candidates by university league tables are preventing businesses from making good hires who have the potential to be profitable from both a personal and monetary perspective. These exercises inadvertently have a profound effect on a graduate’s confidence. In Milkround’s 2019 Candidate Compass survey, one graduate said:

“I feel like employers only look at the kind of university you attend sometimes, it doesn’t matter about the degree level you are graduating with, and that worries me about my future.”

Financial concerns are of course, never far from student minds. 44% of those who didn’t attend a Russell Group university say that they’ve had to make sacrifices financially in order to secure their first job out of university.

However, those with a Russell Group degree surprisingly find themselves in similar financial difficulties with 41% having to make frequent financial sacrifices, in contrast to recent findings by the government’s Longitudinal Education Outcomes report.

Elitism in the workplace

Milkround’s Candidate Compass survey also uncovered students’ biggest worries. Throughout the findings, socio-economic backgrounds and ‘fitting in’ came out as the issues that are keeping students up at night with 8% admitting that they are concerned they won’t get the chances they deserve because of their socio-economic background.

Location plays a big factor in the roles that grads go for with a quarter (24%) of graduates and students saying they find the cost of attending interviews in London a struggle. Whether elitism in terms of ethnicity, location or educational background is unfounded or not, it is down to the individual firm to ensure their workplace is progressive and diverse if they want to attract talent.

What can be done?

The UK government has recently come out in favour of grads as the education secretary has expressed his concerns around university bias, but there’s still more to be done.

Two in five (41%) of graduates suggest that employers should practice blind recruitment to create a diverse workforce and level the playing field. Blind recruitment is a practise which aims to increase inclusion when recruiting by ‘hiding’ elements such as name, gender, religion and anything that denotes socioeconomic background.

A quarter of those (24%) are also calling for all prerequisites to be abolished from the recruiting process such as which university they attended. The industry is not itself blind to these tactics, with firms such as Deloitte, the BBC and Clifford Chance already having made use of them.

Certainly, all companies should aim to have diversity as a key part of their hiring strategy – but how can companies do their best to avoid being perceived as bias? Grads claim that removing minimum requirements (23%), offering more opportunities to candidates in disadvantaged areas (15%) and supporting candidates with travel to attend interviews (12%) are all a good place to start to increase diversity. Meanwhile, 8% also suggested employers could help grads to find affordable accommodation in the area of their new job.

As students want employers to demonstrate how they can meet them in the middle, it’s essential that businesses demonstrate change is happening, with the UK being one of the most progressive countries in terms of recruitment diversity. Given that more than four out of five grads feel the bias exists, companies have a clear call to communicate that their doors are open to all.

Georgina Brazier, Graduate Jobs Expert at Milkround outlines how some firms can adapt to increase inclusion in their talent pool:

“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”

“Moreover, many companies have made huge strides in increasing diversity in their recruitment and change is on the horizon. The best way to help graduates believe that firms can offer them a future whatever their background, is to break down communication with students and have face-to-face conversations by visiting universities around the country. This dialogue is key to easing the anxiety graduates may encounter before applying for jobs, plus encourage students from diverse backgrounds to apply to firms they may have previously viewed as having a challenging entry point.”

The research is part of Milkround’s Candidate Compass Report which aims to unveil the perceptions and expectations that this year’s graduates have towards entering the workforce.

About the research: The Milkround Candidate Compass Report was conducted with a survey sample of 7,000 candidates between 29th April – 6th May 2019. Further research was conducted to a pool of 1,500 recent graduates between 11th – 13th August 2019.

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