One of the UK’s largest graduate employers is scrapping the use of a UCAS points minimum as an entry criteria for its graduate scheme, after it found that the system unfairly favours graduates who had attended private school.

Accountancy firm PwC has announced it will no longer use the so-called Ucas tariff — a system that converts A-level grades and other exam results into a points total — as a requirement for the PwC graduate scheme after finding that one in three of its graduate recruits had been privately educated. Failing to change would see them “miss out on key talent from disadvantaged backgrounds,” a spokesperson said.

The practice of using UCAS points – created as an indicator of a person’s potential for university, not the jobs market – has been controversial among graduates for some time. One Graduate Fog reader told us he feels the practice is “a lazy way of filtering graduates.” Another complained that “UCAS points aren’t meant to be used in this way” and suggested the government should crack down on the practice.

Now it seems there is an even stronger reason for ditching UCAS points as a graduate jobs entry requirement: it unfairly discriminates against candidates from less well-off backgrounds. It is now recognised that exam results can be distorted by school type, and long-standing evidence shows that state-educated students outperform their peers from private schools in terms of final university degree.

In other words, many students who do exceptionally well at university may not have performed particularly well at school. But if it wasn’t a great school – or they faced extra challenges during that period of their life – it is unfair to hold that against them.

Explaining the firm’s decision to modernise requirements for the PwC graduate scheme, Gaenor Bagley, PwC’s head of people said:

“As a progressive employer we recognise that talent and potential presents itself in different ways and at different stages in people’s lives. 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 or where they are from.

“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 reach for them.”

And Richard Irwin, PwC’s head of student recruitment, added:

“We want to target bright, talented people and extend our career opportunities to untapped talent in wider pockets of society. Our experience shows that whilst A Level assessment can indicate potential, for far too many students there are other factors that influence results. Competition and assessment for our graduate roles will be as tough as ever – but those that want to get on with a career in business can do so.”

The move was welcomed by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, whose chief executive Stephen Isherwood said:

“Using a candidate’s UCAS points to assess their potential is a blunt tool and a barrier to social mobility. This is an innovate step by one of the most significant graduate recruiters in the UK. Other graduate employers should follow their lead.”

Applicants to PwC’s current graduate scheme were told they must have at least 340 points on the Ucas tariff. That would equate to at least two A-levels at A grade and one at B.

PwC’s graduate programme, voted the top scheme in the country for 12 years in row, will continue to filter applications by university degree results and through online behavioural and aptitude assessments that test students more closely on their capacity to learn, personal skills and overall suitability for the workplace.

Applications to PwC’s graduate schemes rose to 25,573 last year, 17 applications for every role, this is expected to rise considerably this year, as more candidates are eligible to apply. Last year PwC recruited from 82 UK universities.

What do you think of PwC’s announcement – and should all graduate employers follow their lead? Do you feel you have been unfairly discriminated against by the UCAS tariff system, when applying for graduate jobs? Tell us what you think, below…

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