Different standards for graduate recruiters and universities

One of the largest, and maybe most prestigious, recruiters in the UK, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has decided to stop using A-level grades (via a UCAS points score) as an initial selection mechanism for applicants to its graduate scheme. See here for the story in The Guardian and here for a post on a PwC blog. Previously PwC required that any applicant have to have at least 340 UCAS points to be considered. As an ex-admissions tutor who used these same grades to select prospective students, this caught my eye.

The reason given by PwC is that this relatively crude measure gives students who went to independent schools an unfair advantage over those who went to taxpayer-funded schools. This seems pretty reasonable, you’d expect the children at a school with fees of £13,000 a year to generally get more UCAS points than those at a publicly-funded school spending less than half that per pupil. The Guardian article does not mention that it uses these same UCAS points in its league tables.

Surrey, as well as all other universities as far as I know, make the same offer to those from private and taxpayer-funded schools. Although, I think (I no longer do admissions) we can make some reduced offers to partner schools, which will be state schools. University admission is not directly comparable to graduate recruitment. Graduate recruiters have 3 or 4 years of university grades to rely on that we don’t have of course. Also, the newspaper article and blog discuss only what PwC will not be using to select applicants, not what they will. Any selection method is imperfect, to make progress whatever they are doing instead will need to be less imperfect than UCAS points.

But if a major employer views UCAS points as being discriminatory then this does raise questions over the use by universities of these points, albeit that universities are using them earlier when there are fewer alternatives. Any decision to change to making different offers to state and privately educated pupils, would have to be made by our elected representatives. I think this would also apply to any other change to admissions to try and assess ability as independently as possible of where pupils go to school. Any such change would be politically sensitive. We are a democracy so decisions on on how many go to university, how they are selected, and what fees they pay, are taken by the people we will elect on Thursday. Our votes matter. We should vote.

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