'Working-class graduates kept out of highly paid jobs'

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The Independent Online

An old boys' network is preventing working-class graduates with excellent academic records from being appointed to highly paid jobs, according to new research.

An old boys' network is preventing working-class graduates with excellent academic records from being appointed to highly paid jobs, according to new research.

An influential lobby group representing leaders of industry and eminent academics has called on graduate employers to review their recruitment policies, warning that there is a clear danger that companies are just "recruiting in their own image" rather than taking on the most capable workers.

Graduates from lower social classes earned significantly less than their fellow students of higher social status, no matter which university they attended, a report commissioned by the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) found.

Oxford and Cambridge graduates from poorer families earned an average of 16 per cent less than equally well-qualified students from professional backgrounds, the study, by academics from the London School of Economics, concluded. The earnings bias remained even when factors such as age, gender and family structure were taken into account.

The average Oxbridge graduate earned about eight per cent more than the alumni of "old" universities, while the graduates of former polytechnics earned eight per cent less. The findings prompted the council's chief executive to call for graduate employers to review their recruitment policies.

The report has important policy implications for the Government, according to the report's authors, Dr Gavan Conlon and Dr Arnaud Chevalier of the LSE's Centre for the Economics of Education.

Ministers have tried to open "top universities" to students from a wider range of backgrounds, assuming that this would give them access to high status jobs, they argue. However, their report concluded that "graduates from more favourable backgrounds still achieve higher returns on their education even after accounting for their personal characteristics".

Richard Brown, the chief executive of CIHE, said: "Just getting students from poor communities and comprehensive schools into the so-called 'top' universities will not ensure that they go on to get the best jobs."

Mr Brown called on graduate employers to review their recruitment policies, warning that there was a danger that companies would just recruit graduates from the top social classes.

He said: "Employers should consider their recruitment policies; the business benefits of having a diverse labour force that can relate to an equally diverse range of customers; the ethics of discriminating, however unwittingly, against older graduates or those from different social groups. There is a danger that some employers just recruit in their own image."

He said that students from poorer backgrounds may be losing out to their better- connected classmates because they lacked the confidence and social skills to impress at job interviews.

"Employers want to recruit individuals who have confidence and social skills as well as academic capabilities," he said. "Individuals from non- traditional backgrounds need help to improve how they learn, plan how they acquire the skills needed and how they present their experiences and capabilities."

The study analysed the earnings of graduates who left university in 1985, 1990 and 1995. It found a clear financial advantage for school leavers who went to university. Between 1993 and 2000, male graduates earned nearly 15 per cent more than men who only held A-level qualifications, while female graduates earned 19 per cent more than women with A-levels only.

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