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AGCAS survey finds educational experience and background compounds inequality gap

  • 12 July 2018
  • By Elaine Boyes

This guest blog has been kindly written for us by Elaine Boyes, Executive Director of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS).

It will come as no surprise that the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS) First-year Student Career Readiness Survey 2017/18 found that socio-economic background continues to be a major influence on students’ career readiness and confidence when they arrive at university.

Our survey found that many students are arriving at university unsure of their options and without a clear career plan. Less than one third of younger students had clear career ideas before they chose their university course. A recurring factor influencing first year students’ career preparation and confidence was the career guidance they received at school.

The survey found a strong social capital gap between students educated at private schools and those educated at state schools. Private school students were more confident than their state school peers in talking to professionals, giving presentations at job interviews and understanding employers’ organisational culture.

According to the responses from UK students aged under 20, a significantly higher proportion of students educated at private school reported that careers support had been provided in six out of 13 Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) initiatives compared to their state school peers. Some of the key differences between state and private school students and their access to and/or use of impartial CEIAG prior to university include:

  • students educated at private school had been provided with more opportunities to receive one-to-one careers guidance, to learn networking skills and to meet employers;
  • the proportion of students who had received advice about university course choice from careers advisers at state schools is almost half that of private school students;
  • many more students educated at private school reported that they had already attended one-to-one careers guidance sessions and presentations about higher education prior to starting university; and
  • while private and state school students reported similar provision of printed careers information and careers advisers, this support was used less by students from state schools than those from private schools.

The big gaps between the availability of printed information and careers advisers and the use of both initiatives by students in state schools requires further exploration to better understand why most students did not access this support.

AGCAS believes that the differences and apparent inequalities between students from state and private schools cannot be narrowed without policy change, financial investment and supporting resources for CEIAG.

The recent HEPI report Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director of Fair Access and Participation’ rightly identified the unprecedented number of first-generation students now entering higher education. It also acknowledged the evolved agenda for the Office for Students’ new Director of Fair Access and Participation, who suggests that simply getting students into higher education is not enough when their outcomes are worse than students overall.

Interestingly, our research indicated that first-generation university students’ confidence levels were no lower than their counterparts. They also reported slightly more confidence than students where both parents/guardians had attended university in two aspects of career self-efficacy and business culture awareness. This is potentially due to more first-generation university students having had part-time jobs both before and during university. The survey found that 71.6% of UK students under 20 had done part-time work in the last two years. However, fewer students where both parents had attended university and those educated at private schools had done part-time work compared to their counterparts.

Our survey found that mature students had clearer career ideas than younger students (over six out of 10 mature students). However, conversely they seemed to be lacking in social or cultural capital. Time and financial pressures are a major obstacle to mature students’ participation in career-related activities. They spend more time than younger students on study, doing paid work, family responsibilities and commuting and less time on social and extra-curricular activities. They are also more concerned about finance, with over a quarter of mature students reporting that they were not sure they had enough funds to finance their university education compared to 13.6% of younger students.

Mark Stow, AGCAS Advocacy Director, says:

The challenges identified in this research clearly provide some tangible evidence to support the strategic objectives of AGCAS ‒to effectively advocate and lobby on behalf of our member services, and the students to which they collectively and conscientiously support – day in, day out. The services provided by our members, continue to challenge social inequality and mobility, ensuring that regardless of socio-economic or educational background, students are provided with the opportunities to rightly fulfil their true potential, and therefore supporting a diverse and inclusive economy. We will continue to effectively promote the value of impartial and professional careers education, advice and guidance to both support and directly address the fundamental issues identified through this research – which should be valued both throughout the students’ journey in higher education, but equally prior to undertaking their studies at university.

The First-year Career Readiness Survey provides further evidence to support AGCAS member services in developing programmes and activities for widening participation cohorts. In December 2017, our Graduate Labour Market survey found that almost three quarters of services were providing targeted programmes for their widening participation students.

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