Over 2.8 million students are currently enrolled at universities across the UK. 

What lies ahead for this year’s soon-to-be graduates?


As GCSEs, A-Levels and University final exams are underway this month, the new cohort of young talent are soon to be entering the workplace. Many students this academic year have been impacted by a wave of industrial action by teachers and university staff, including the current marking boycott under the UCU.


As concerns over graduating and acquiring qualifications because of the boycott continue, the impact of this on different groups of university students needs unpicking.


What are university students experiencing and how may this affect their transition into the workplace?


At present, 145 universities are taking part in the UCU marking boycott due to disputes over low pay, poor working conditions and pensions. Unions have stated they were offered a new pay deal for 2023-24 on 25th January of between 5 to 8%, however this is still considered a real-term “pay cut”. 


Students across the UK have been speaking out against the impact this may have on their ability to graduate, as many final exams and dissertations are yet to be marked. Students at the University of Edinburgh have concerns that their degrees will be “devalued” in the job market as a result of such action preventing a comprehensive marking system.


It is unclear how delays to graduations and completion of qualifications will impact student career prospects, especially amongst ethnically diverse communities. But it is likely to be negative.


Also making the news in recent weeks are the new changes to student loan repayments for university students attending university as of September 2023, predicted to disproportionately impact the low-middle earning graduates


Martin Lewis has said these changes will be “negative for students but good for the taxpayer” as students under the new system are predicted to pay back double of what is paid under the current system, with the repayment threshold lowered to salaries of £25,000 and cancellations extended to by another 10 years.


Gavan Conlon, a senior partner at London Economics, also commented on the changes: “This is effectively a massive subsidy to predominantly white, predominantly male graduates. It’s deeply regressive.”


As many still feel higher education is inaccessible for the most disadvantaged young people in society, these changes may act as a deterrent for prospective students and will impact the lowest graduate earners over the coming years.


Such recent conditions are placing pressures on graduates and prospective students and are likely to exacerbate already unequal conditions in the workplace too.


 Such damage could cause further widening inequality and unequal opportunity for ethnically diverse candidates (as well as those from a disadvantaged social economic background)


So, how are ethnically diverse graduates being received in the workplace following graduation?


Will recent events in higher education- including the marking boycotts and changes to student loans- disproportionately impact ethnically diverse graduates?


Research conducted with recent graduate cohorts has consistently recognised disparity in employment and salary outcomes between ethnically diverse graduates and their white counterparts.


 Ongoing statistics released on GovUK has found that graduates from mixed white and Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi heritage have the lowest average earnings 1 year after graduating, closely followed by Pakistani, Black Caribbean and all other Black background ethnic groups. 


It also identified that graduates from a Black or Black African ethnic group were most likely to have no ‘sustained destination’ 5 years after graduating from university. Research conducted by the Social Market Foundation in 2021 concurs with these patterns, in which they found that Asian and Black graduates are less likely to be in graduate employment compared to white graduates.


With research indicating Black workers with degrees are paid on average 23.1% less than white workers with degrees, the job market does not seem equitable towards ethnically diverse graduates


Such structural issues persist despite ambition amongst ethnically diverse graduates very apparent. 


There remains a disproportionate disparity between ethnically diverse applicants and chosen candidates for these roles when compared with white counterparts. It is also evident that these individuals may feel put off by roles that are often highly competitive due to a perceived lack of experience and potentially fewer contacts in corporate sectors, as stressed by leading graduate recruiters Bright Network.


The Higher Policy Institute has criticised UK industry as being “predominantly male and pale” because of such systemic issues, proposing advice for organisations recruiting:


“Employers should strongly be encouraged to recruit from a wider field of candidates than the current modus operandi of hiring homogeneous candidates with similar degrees almost exclusively from the same universities. 


We should finally dispense with the myth that this ‘tried and tested’ approach delivers the highest quality candidates… ​​We can only diversify and improve the demographic landscape of the UK’s industries at the most senior levels if we take bold, ambitious and decisive action to intervene in the status quo.


The evidence is clear. Ethnically diverse graduates are facing barriers in the workplace, leading to unemployment and pay gaps


The added risk to obtaining qualifications, triggered by changes to student finance and marking boycotts, are likely to have am even greater impact on those already facing disadvantage.


Organisations need to do more to prevent this from happening. Whilst many initiatives currently exist to improve ethnically diverse graduate recruitment- such as the Black Young Professionals Network and 10,000 Black Internsmore still needs to be done if the workplace is to become equal. 


Whether through graduate scheme programmes, apprenticeships and assisted training, or active engagement with equitable recruitment practice; change is possible in your organisation


How can your organisation remove barriers that ethnically diverse graduates are facing?


How can we make sure everyone has an equal start in their career?


Race Equality Matters’ Jobs Board can help you to recruit diverse talent today.

We would value your thoughts. If you want to see change and race equality in the workplace, join the Race Equality Matters’ movement. 


So, what is your motivation to make society and the workplace better for generations to come?

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If you want to see change and race equality in the workplace, join the Race Equality Matters’ movement if you are not registered already.

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