Students from state schools are more likely to achieve top-grade degrees than those from the independent sector (report, 28 March), and there is a call for leading universities to place more emphasis on applicants’ backgrounds when offering places to study. Great, so all graduates will be on a level playing field in the jobs market, right? Wrong!
Too many employers are unforgiving in the requirements for their graduate jobs. As well as a minimum of a 2:1, they also require 300 or more Ucas points (BBB or higher at A-level). For jobs in IT, to take an example, TARGETjobs lists employers requiring 300 Ucas points or more including: Accenture, CHP Consulting, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Ocado, PA Consulting, SunGuard, Tessella, and TPP.
Many employers have exceptions for those with illness or family circumstances, or for those who are exceptional in sporting or similar achievements, but the barrier still remains for many. Forget how brilliant you are in your chosen subject: what did you do when you were 18? This question might more accurately be framed as “Which school did you attend when you were 18?”, because three times as many private school pupils gain three A grades at A-level as those in state schools.
Leading employers visit universities’ careers fairs but, while almost all will attend Russell Group universities, the number of employers attending universities in the lower half of the “university league tables” dwindles.
Some employers are coming round to the idea that recruiting graduates from Russell Group universities and with 300-plus Ucas points does not lead to a very diverse intake, and diversity is essential for success in the global markets. Some employers visit universities outside the Russell Group. Some are more open-minded about your past life: TARGETjobs lists AVEVA and Hewlett Packard as employers who do not have a minimum Ucas points cut-off for IT jobs. In accounting and finance, the professional services firm PwC has recently relaxed its graduate intake requirements for audit and assurance so that if you obtain a first-class degree, the Ucas points requirements drop to 240 (CCC).
As well as universities levelling the applications playing field, employers also need to play their part. I am teaching some fantastic accounting and finance students. Are there any enlightened employers out there who would like to offer summer internships to the highest achieving students? Many do not have the academic requirements you stipulate and may not have the strongest CVs in terms of relevant work experience or volunteering but they are intelligent, diligent, sometimes brilliant.
Dr Maria Gee, Senior Lecturer in Accounting, University of Winchester
I was concerned by your editorial on tuition fees (1 April), which questioned the fairness of making those who do not go to university “stump up” for those who do.
Applied more generally, this principle would remove the argument for collective, public provision of any service. Why should the healthy “stump up” for the sick to be treated, those without children for others’ education, or those with cars for public transport?
Taken to its logical conclusion, this argument would destroy the civilised basis of our national life and create the situation found in the USA where those who can pay for services will do so and those who can’t are excluded and marginalised.
Alan Brown, Bromborough, Wirral
Plainly, the right language matters
Your article on Plain English (28 March) reminded me of the start of my Probation Service career in Barnsley in the early 1960s, where to know the difference between a shovel and a spade was a matter of civic pride.
For a social worker to use the term “sibling” in court invited a broadside below a career water-line. When once asked by a chairman what the term meant, his clerk advised: “I think it’s something to do with chickens, sir.”
One day a “gentleman of the road” appeared, brought off the street for some minor matter which couldn’t be dealt with on the spot. As if speaking to a simpleton, the chairman slowly and deliberately explained to the defendant, to the accompaniment of a nodding clerk, “Your case is being adjourned sine die. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” came the reply.
It seems judgements on plain English can depend on who is dishing it out.
Roy Spilsbury, Penmaenmawr, Conwy
Simplicity and clarity can go too far, even in official communications. I was once told of a major group in dispute with the Revenue. Top accountants were involved, top solicitors engaged. The issue was referred to leading counsel. They drew up a long, closely-argued case.
The Revenue’s reply arrived by return of post: “Thank you for your letter. I do not agree.”
Robert Davies, London E3
Books for prisoners
The issue of prisoners receiving parcels containing books is not straightforward.
Having taught in prisons for many years, I need no convincing of the value of books in that environment. I came across many prisoners who, for the first time in their lives, were reading and enjoying a variety of books. However, I have some sympathy with prison governors whose perpetual security nightmare is maintaining some degree of control over contraband entering prison. Drugs are easily concealed and screening is neither cheap nor quick (most prisons have to buy in the service of sniffer dogs, for example).
I do wonder how many parcels sent to prisons contained books. Not as many as the literary establishment likes to think I imagine; items of clothing are likely to be higher on the list. Be that as it may, governors know their prisons and it should be left to their discretion to decide what is and isn’t manageable rather than politicians making rulings calculated to appeal to the “give them nothing” brigade.
Sue Turner, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire
April Fools at the wicket
At first glance it seemed obvious that Scottish/UN peacekeeping story was your April Fool spoof (“Peacekeeping plan drawn up by UN in event of a Scottish Yes vote”, 1 April) but then I reached the sports section to read some nonsense about Holland beating England at cricket. How ridiculous! Did you really think we’d fall for that?
Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex
Loved the item about the UN’s proposed post-independence referendum peacekeeping force; “Avril Prime” was a gem. I’ve already booked the last remaining room from which to watch the manoeuvres. BMW’s ad was a surprise, though.
John Crocker, Cheltenham
Hey, you had me going there! That lead story on the front page (1 April) about the Royal Mail flotation. Apparently Vince Cable’s City chums agreed to buy RM shares and promised to hold on to them. But then it’s said they went and sold them straight away at a vast profit.
I mean, honestly, how believable is that? Wasn’t born yesterday y’know!
Ed Sharkey, Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire
Texting in the street
Apple’s pedestrian-avoidance plan for the terminally phone-struck (“Text-and-walk plan for those trying to do two things at once”, 31 March) is one more blow in the drive to render normal human behaviour redundant.
The massive surge in numbers of those who “walk and talk” has become one of the most annoying features of the urban landscape. It’s bad enough coping with the ear-plug barkers shouting into thin air, but ten times worse with those who simply stare at their phones while veering randomly into fellow pedestrians.
The moment you step out of that door it is essential to have your mobile amulet to hand, ready to combat the hideous dangers of actually observing the world around you. Now, combine that, as some already do, with a bicycle ...
Christopher Dawes, London W11
Financial community rumbled again
What arrant nonsense is this clamour for the head of Martin Wheatley, Chief Executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. The plunge in insurance company share prices was due to the financial community fearing that they had been rumbled, again, and with just cause. The pity is that the inquiry is not going to be as wide-ranging as at first suggested.
Peter English, Rhewl, Denbighshire
Is this contract really a job?
I am reassured that the Chancellor has signed up to a full employment pledge, or perhaps aspiration. However I am unclear if a zero-hours contract is a job, as it appears to involve a firm commitment neither to work nor to wages, or am I just an economic illiterate?
Lee Dalton BSc Econ, Weymouth, Dorset