Are A-level college students in London at an unfair advantage?

May 25, 2015

A-level college students wishing to work in accountancy when they graduate may find that high UCAS scores are detrimental to their progress, depending on which route they take.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), an accountancy firm and one of the largest recruiters of graduates in the UK, have stated that they will no longer use the UCAS points tariff as a requirement for those entering their graduate programmes. This decision followed the discovery that one in three of the firm’s recruits had been privately educated, which PwC believed was evidence that these candidates were at an unfair advantage. PwC found evidence to suggest that students who attended state-funded schools out-performed those who were privately educated.

Gaenor Bagley, a member of Pwc’s executive board said: “Removing the UCAS criteria will create a fairer and more modern system in which students are selected on their own merit, irrespective of their background. By breaking down social barriers, we will open the door to thousands of students who may have previously thought a graduate role with PwC was out of their reach”. The PwC’s decision to disregard UCAS scores was applauded by the AGR (Association of Graduate Recruiters), who believe it to be a key way of tackling social mobility. Although it is clear that PwC may have the best intentions, could worthy candidates be missing out on opportunities as a result?

Private sixth-form colleges in London and around the UK are home to students from all walks of life. Although the assumption may be that they are filled with those who have only ever known privilege, a closer look would reveal that to be far from the case. With the availability of full and partial scholarships, many students now have access to educational opportunities that were previously considered out of their reach. For them, this is their first step in the right direction towards the social mobility that PwC claim to value, and these students may not have been granted such an opportunity had they stayed within the state system. Pwc should not be penalising students like these in an aim to make things fairer.

The benefits of being privately educated are not just academic. A-level colleges like Ashbourne pride themselves on their ability to teach students the importance of independent thought, in an environment that takes them out of their usual comfort zones. During the last stage of education before fully fledged adulthood, it is important to use the time to build character, and although it is possible for students to do this at either a state-funded or private institution, private schools and sixth-form colleges prioritise this.

In an effort to diversify graduate intake, it would appear the bigger picture may have escaped PricewaterhouseCoopers. Taking factors other than UCAS points into account is a good idea, as some candidates may show strengths later on that were not reflected in their A-level results. However, disregarding the results altogether makes little sense. PwC’s aim should be to recruit the best of the best. The route each candidate takes to becoming suitable for the graduate programmes should be irrelevant.

Source: The Guardian