One of the big news stories in the world of careers this week seems to be concerning a recent study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies into graduate wages. Gathered from a cohort of more than 200,000 graduates who completed their studies at UK universities in 2007, it compared wages three and a half years after graduation to find that private school students earned on average £4,500 a year more than their state school counterparts. The thrust of the BBC article which details this report is the questions raised over the impact that education has on social mobility, particularly in line with recent efforts towards the widening participation agenda.
Of course there are flaws in the IFS report as it appears to make no distinction between the universities attended or indeed the A-level grades or degree classification gained when assessing these graduate – all factors that are likely to play to the advantage of those who attended fee-earning schools. But that’s only one part of the argument. Regardless of all of these advantages, the reporting on this study fails to address any advantages likely to have been gained through personal networks. We all know how powerful these are in the world of work. We all know how much better connected fee-paying students are likely to be. And it got me thinking, can we ever really succeed in closing the gap here when this advantage will always continue to exist and have a major impact? What can the widening participation agenda really hope to achieve against this landscape?