Study Shows UK Social Mobility Harmed by Russell Group Recruiting


A study done by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has found that graduates of the UK’s 24 Russell Group universities (students who are more likely to have been born into wealth) are more likely to be hired for the best careers regardless of talent.

In the report “A Qualitative Evaluation of Non-educational Barriers to the Elite Professions,” the Commission reported that 40-50% of the applicants to the UK’s leading accounting firms went to Russell Group universities, when only 5% of the population of the UK attends a private school. This is the result of biased recruitment strategies, which target these prestigious research-based universities. 60-70% of all of the job offers from these accountancy firms go to Russell Group graduates, a bias they say prevents true social mobility.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds made up 19% of Russell Group entrants in the 2011-2012 school year, as opposed to 33% across all UK universities in 2013-2014.

The report notes that strong academics also plays a part in the success rate of these graduates, but these companies also engage in coaching and advice sessions at these universities, which allows for an additional leg up. They also suspect that professionals and recruiters may be able to flag the applications of students they particularly like during these visits.

The report said that students from Russell Group schools are:

… on average more likely to have enjoyed educational and economic advantages compared to many students educated elsewhere.

These advantages are further reinforced in the recruitment and selection process. In contrast, students educated elsewhere and/or who are from less privileged backgrounds may be disadvantaged because their application is not actively invited by elite firms and if they do apply, they do not have similar access to coaching and support which might aid their success.

Furthermore, the campus visits may reinforce an “image of exclusivity,” leading poorer students to feel that they will not fit in at these firms or that their credentials wouldn’t be good enough.

In interviews, more affluent candidates might act more confidently than those from working-class backgrounds and have stronger communication skills, influencing the hiring process even more.

The study said:

Elite firms define ‘talent’ according to a number of factors such as drive resilience, strong communication skills and above all confidence and ‘polish,’ which participants in the research acknowledge can be mapped to middle-class status and socialization.

The study, done by Royal Holloway, University of London, was based on interviews from 13 high-status accountancy, law, and financial services firms, writes Hannah Richardson of the BBC. According to Helen Whitehouse of the Mirror, these companies account for 45,000 jobs.

Staffing Industry Analysts quoted commission chairman and former Labour Health Secretary Alan Milburn:

This research shows that young people with working-class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs. Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry.

Inevitably, that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.

A similar study in Scotland found that financial firms recruited mainly from four high-ranking institutions: the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Strathclyde, and Heriot-Watt University, said Chris Havergal of the Times of Higher Education..

Some companies only consider applicants from Edinburgh and the University of St. Andrews for investment banking positions.