A study by the Association of Graduate Recruiters has found that top employers in the United Kingdom are increasingly restricting recruitment programs to those with first-class degrees because of the high volume of students now awarded top marks. Graeme Paton of the Telegraph writes that this will raise fresh concerns over the issue of university ‘grade inflation’.
The number of students graduating with a first-class degree has doubled over the last decade. Last summer 53,215 were awarded. There is also growing competition for professional jobs as the economic downturn continues to see job demand far outstrip job supply. The AGR estimates that there are 154 graduates applying for every graduate position in the retail industry.
The AGR surveyed 215 employers who were planning to offer 21,200 vacancies this year. While the traditional cut off of a 2:1 degree classification is still the most common selection criteria used by employers when recruiting for top jobs:
The study found that some companies were “considering increasing their requirement to a minimum of a first degree classification due to the high volume of their graduates who actually achieve this”.
The disclosure comes despite warnings from David Willetts, the Universities Minister, that companies should stop cherry-picking graduates with top degrees from a small range of leading institutions. He branded grade classifications “incredibly crude”.
Companies are also increasingly concerned about ensuring they recruit more staff from state schools and poor families, with one in eight already checking the socio-economic background of applicants and more than a fifth with plans to implement similar measures in the future.
This comes after repeated comments on the issue from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who has attacked the Coalition’s failure to address declining social mobility rates in the UK and warned against the practice of career opportunities being dictated by ‘who your father’s friends are’.
While this has concerned students from middle-class backgrounds the chief executive of AGR, Carl Gilleard, believes that the checks aren’t done to discriminate against applicants from wealthier families but were instead aimed at finding flaws in the recruitment process that might cause poor students not to apply. He also defended the practice of using grades as a selection criteria.
“Degree classification has been described recently as a very blunt instrument to use, but when you have 100 applicants going for each job, it is quite understandable that employers are going to look at degrees as an obvious starting point,” he said.