Former Labour minister Alan Milburn today published the first of three government-commissioned reports looking at how to increase social mobility.
While Mr Milburn will focus specifically on the role of universities in a report to be published next month, today’s study on fair access to professional careers also touches on higher education.
He cites figures on the social exclusivity of the professions: 43 per cent of barristers went to private school, with almost a third graduating from Oxbridge; while 54 per cent of the country’s top journalists went to private school, with a third graduating from Oxbridge.
“This is social engineering on a grand scale,” writes Mr Milburn.
He says: “The UK’s leading employers target an average of only 19 universities for their graduate recruitment programmes…Since those universities are the most socially exclusive in the country, these recruitment practices merely reinforce the social exclusivity of the professions.”
The group of universities from which such employers recruit must be rapidly broadened “if the big growth in professional employment…is to produce a social mobility dividend for Britain”, Mr Milburn argues.
Citing figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiters, Mr Milburn adds: “The five universities most often targeted by Britain’s top graduate employers in 2011-12 were Cambridge, London (including Imperial College, University College London and the London School of Economics), Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford.”
These institutions “have some of the lowest proportions of students from disadvantaged backgrounds”, adds Mr Milburn, citing data on the proportion of entrants from state schools, from the most deprived neighbourhoods and from the most deprived socio-economic groups.
Several of Mr Milburn’s recommendations for fair access to the professions involve a role for universities, including developing schemes for students to mentor school pupils and for the government to “work with universities to develop proposals to integrate a flexible element of professional experience into all higher education courses”.