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Posts Tagged ‘Social Mobility’

July & August 09…times are a-changing

Posted by Tobin Webb on September 23, 2009

July was a month of goodbyes and hellos, a bittersweet month that saw the end of my two-year ‘reign of terror’ at the University of Bristol Students’ Union and my Chairmanship of the Aldwych Group – but I couldn’t be happier – to have passed those jobs on to two exceptionally talented officers – Owen Peachey at Bristol and Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang from LSE who is already doing great things at Aldwych, I wish them both the best of luck in the world, every success to you both. Meeting the new Aldwych officers was great too at our training and handover weekend in Newcastle – 09-10 seems to have seen a particularly talented bunch of union officers out there and I’m excited about working with you as an NEC member over the coming months.

Later in the month I attended Active Political Leadership training at UWE and participated in everyone’s favourite roleplay; Fibchester. Playing the part of a Pro Vice-Chancellor was a cathartic experience for me as I channelled two particular PVCs from my old institution, often using their exact words and giving the officers a real hard time. It is sad though really that the Fibchester worst-case scenario is so rooted in reality, it’s great that we prepare officers to face these situations, but I really wish the University management out there would get a grip and see the value of strong and active students to their institutions – how there is such a strong mutual benefit when it all works the way it should.

Interestingly this month also saw me defending those access policies I mentioned in my last blog in a number of radio interviews I took part in for NUS. In particular LBC with James Whale was a ‘delight’ as he informed listeners that giving lower grade offers to students from failing schools who showed potential was “devaluing the degrees” as Universities were being asked “to let any old tom, dick and harry get in, in the name of political correctness and hitting targets”. Well, he was a nice man wasn’t he. I want to draw people’s attention to this graph taken from “Unleashing Aspiration”


Evidence from HEFCE shows that, once at university, a typical state-educated pupil will perform at the equivalent level to an independently schooled pupil with A-Levels between one and two grades higher (see figure 6e). Put another way, a state-educated pupil typically outperforms an independently schooled pupil with the same grades.

I (again) recommend reading the whole report. From my own experience also at Bristol where they have this access agreement in place, a long term study due to be published later this year shows that those students admitted with the lower entry grade have gone on to succeed and in many cases out perform their peers.

Where institutions employ these kinds of access agreements, they work.

These policies are a life line to those students who are not failing, but being failed, and that quite clearly would shine if given the opportunity and the support.

I want to see this kind of agreement in every university, especially in the Russell and 94 groups. It’s fair to say that if we had a perfect, fair and fully funded school system, such measures would not be needed – true. But we don’t, and until that time (and all the private schools would go broke) we have this one thing we can do – and for this generation, it’s the right thing to do.


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Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) Annual Conference

Posted by Tobin Webb on September 23, 2009

With thanks to Katie Dalton, President of NUS Wales – I was invited to do a little NUS Wales work in attending this event in just over the Severn bridge from me in Newport, which turned out to be much more of a thought-provoking event than I expected.

I was invited to address the conference as part of a panel talking about the student experience and recruitment methods of AGR members. What emerged was a heated debate about fair access to professions and an ‘outing’ of dodgy recruitment methods. We’ve all heard the debate for many years now about fair access to HE, but it amazes me that the same kind of public pressure isn’t being mounted on graduate recruiters.

Alan Milburn MP’s very welcome report “Unleashing Aspiration” which you can (and should) read, starts to address these issues, but opening the doors to more apprentices is like trying to wallpaper over the cracks of this deeply ingrained issue. Graduate recruiters need to be exposed for what they are up to – many in the room were quite open and unapologetic about their methods which play right into the old elitist vision of HE – “we don’t even bother looking at applicants from universities we don’t recognise the name of” said one young recruitment manager “we simply don’t have the time.” One recruiter – from a firm I wish I could remember the name of – was passionately arguing in favour of breaking down these barriers and she went further to say that she had switched to system where she was seeking “potential” as well as “attainment”, encouraging recruiters to drop their old fashioned approaches of seeking out Russell/94 Group grads with a 2:1 that can pass a maths test and said she had started looking at contextual data and taking a wholistic approach to her assessment of applicants to great success, which her recruits going on to thrive and succeed.

I couldn’t help but think that this argument was strikingly similar to the ones around progressive access agreements to Universities, where contextual data is taken into account and lower grade offers given and recent published studies show that these students almost always go on to not only thrive in their HE institution, but often outshine those students from more traditional backgrounds and schools. It seems to me that the graduate recruiters are just the next barrier to social mobility and inclusion that starts with what postcode you’re born in, what school you go to and what university you may end up at – but it seems the kinds of attitudes they represent are even more out-of-date than the worst offending HE institutions.

It’s time to ramp up the pressure on these people – with youth and graduate unemployment so disturbingly high, David Lammy coming on the radio as he did this month and telling us “not to worry, I’ve been on the phone to PwC and they still have vacancies” just doesn’t fill me full of hope I’m afraid…

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