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Viewpoint Professor Sir Bob Burgess

“Employers who just focus on firsts and 2:1s lose the opportunity of recruiting people with many kinds of skills. For example, if a student got a lower second

class honours degree but ran the whole of the volunteering organisation for the University of Leicester, they would be a very skilled person because they would be organising something like 1,700 students. Now there’s a real skill. And they will have, as a consequence, not spent as much time on their degree studies but you could argue that they had acquired many skills through their university education which would be transferable into employment.

“Employers who apply the cut off are effectively saying that the way that students perform in examination and assessment is what is going to determine who they hire, so in that respect they are not taking into account all the extramural work that students do running clubs and societies and participating in the student union for example. The other issue is that this criteria screens out students who – for whatever reason or circumstance − didn’t get as many A level points as they might have done so their UCAS tariff is not what they might like it to be, and even if they get a first they are automatically screened out. Again, that is a whole set of talent that isn’t being tapped into.

I would

hope that in 10 to 15 years the grade point average has been adopted and the 2:1 is just a very distant memory…

“We have designed the HEAR in such a way that, were the UK to move towards grade point averages rather than degree classes, that could all be recorded on the HEAR. Now I am chairing a new national committee that is looking at the possibility of adopting grade point averages, and that will provide a more fine grained analysis of students abilities within the HEAR.

“I would hope that in 10 to 15 years the grade point

average has been adopted and the 2:1 is just a very distant

memory for people who went to university in the early part of the 21st century.”

So how do those companies who don’t apply the 2:1 manage the volume of applications? Retail is one of the most competitive industries, yet Alkin says that Marks & Spencer uses robust, job specific online tools to whittle down the would-be retail applicants to a manageable number of high quality individuals. “From a retail perspective, investing in much more sophisticated tools, like realistic job previews which we put in place to help individuals decide whether or not being a retail manager is right for them, allows people to de-select themselves. About 10-15% de-select themselves following this preview.”

ERAC also places a lot of emphasis on attraction. It has boosted its campus presence, as well as ensuring the voices of everyone from senior management to summer placement students are heard via the website. “We try to drive prospective candidates to our website where we have loads of blogs about ‘day in the life’, career path opportunities and real life stories so they can make an informed decision about whether to apply,” says Hever. “We have tried to ensure that the people who hit ‘apply now’ are the ones who are really engaged with us and want to work for us, so it’s giving that self-select out opportunity for the candidate.” That said, the organisation still received 28,000 applications for its 700-750 graduate roles last year, and Hever says his team of 12 looks at every application manually.

It is clear that applying a 2:1 cut off is widely acknowledged as an imperfect necessity for many companies, but there is also a school of thought that it has become immaterial given the number of people who graduate with a 2:1 today. HESA reported that two thirds of students were awarded either a first or a 2:1 in 2012 and, as Hever says, “University experience is really important to us but when you have such a high percentage of grads coming out with a 2:1 does it really matter anymore?” Grundy takes an opposing view, flipping this rationale on its head: “We get really good quality applications with our criteria in place, and the percentage of students who have 2:1s and 340 UCAS points today is vast – so there is an incredibly big population to recruit from.” ‘

Whatever the arguments for and against, the increasing access to big data, coupled with the introduction of both the HEAR and a current pilot project which will see 20 UK universities test a different way of grading degrees, means companies are edging ever closer to a more sophisticated approach to attraction and selection that surely signals imminent death for the creaking 2:1 cut off. n

16 Graduate Recruiter |

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