Despite outperforming their private school counterparts at university, state-educated students do less well after college
Students educated at state schools do better at university than their counterparts from public schools, yet are less likely to translate their degrees into graduate jobs.
A study by Bristol University found that 88% of its state-school-educated graduates gained an upper second class degree or better, compared with 85% of those from public schools. Among the Russell Group and 1994 Group universities, more than 20% of state school pupils who graduated between 2009 and 2011 achieved first-class degrees, against 18% of those from the independent sector.
However, superior academic performance is not matched by similar access to the jobs market, with just 58% of state-school-educated graduates finding a professional job, compared with 74% of independently educated graduates in the same period.
Of those students who secure a graduate job, their starting salaries are on average £3,000 lower than their peers who were educated within the fee-paying sector if they received a first, and £2,000 lower if they attained a 2:1.
The figures – from a report by upReach, a charitable initiative to be launched on Wednesday to help students from the least affluent backgrounds reach their potential – suggest that the financial returns on higher education are not the same for undergraduates from more and less privileged backgrounds.
Henry Morris, the founder of upReach, claims that a key reason for the stark difference in outcomes lies in role models, networks and opportunities to pick up “soft skills”, such as problem solving and teamwork, enjoyed by pupils from more affluent backgrounds.
Morris said he supports efforts to improve access to universities for those from the state sector and, in particular, the least well-off, but believes more needs to be done for students once they move into higher education.
An economics graduate from Exeter University who was educated at a public school, Morris said: “I noticed at university how socioeconomic background can affect people’s employment.
“While the work that universities and third-sector groups are doing improving access into universities is important and should continue, there was a question about what happens to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds after they arrive at university – and there is this gap.”
Morris’s charity – which will be launched with the support of universities minister David Willetts, Exeter University chancellor Lady Benjamin and Tory MP Charlotte Leslie – has formed a partnership with the law firm Clifford Chance, the accountancy firms KPMG, Accenture and Deloitte, and Exeter University.
In a pilot project, 40 students selected on the basis that they have been eligible for free school meals at school or full bursaries at university will be given the opportunity to be mentored by staff working for the charity’s partners. The pilot is being run within London and Exeter, but there are hopes to extend the scheme if it is successful and popular.
Morris said: “It is about realising professional potential. It isn’t about guaranteeing them jobs, but ensuring that when they go into interviews, for example, they have the knowledge, the soft skills, the networks, the experience.
“We want to expand to further campuses. The students, whom we call associates, benefit from one-to-one support, networking, professional experience, mentoring from founding partners and that connection to the firms … For employers it is early access to that group of talent who may not fulfil their potential during the application process.”
A report from upReach notes that the Cabinet Office’s 2012 report “University Challenge” found that “employers are looking for candidates who demonstrate communication, teamwork and organisational skills”. However, upReach believe that it is “these non-academic capabilities that undergraduates from less privileged backgrounds tend to lack and struggle to build”.
“This,” they claim, “goes some way to explaining why undergraduates from less privileged backgrounds have poorer access to the professions.”
Meanwhile, Willetts has responded to vice-chancellors who accused the government in the Observer last week of neglecting postgraduate student funding. He told this newspaper he had called for a meeting, to be held later this month, to discuss the emerging evidence of a problem and to consider potential solutions in the current difficult economic climate.