When Qualifications Aren’t Enough: Job Market Outcomes and Experiences of Britain’s Ethnic Minority Graduates

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Life isn’t easy for an ethnic minority graduate in the UK. Each phase along the way, from applying for a place in any university to finding a job and then deciding if it’s financially viable; ethnic minority students are at a clear-cut disadvantage. The disparities are alarming.

Blog Post Sarita 2If you belong to an ethnic minority background you are twice as likely to be in a low-income household. Availing university education is just the first challenge for an ethnic minority student. With rising tuition fees in recent years, university education has gone out of reach for most minority students.
Moreover data show that for some Oxbridge colleges the acceptance rate for black students is lower than white ones. The problem corroborates even outside the Oxbridge league with almost as many black students attending London Metropolitan University as in the entire Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The fact that poorer students are less likely to attend higher-ranking universities also means that it is harder for them for to access top jobs.
The issue is not confined to cost and acceptance into a university –rather “the struggle continues even after graduation[1].” Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the unemployment rates among black and Pakistani Londoners aged 16-24 have reached Third World levels of 44 percent, more than double the 19 percent jobless rate of young whites. For black men, the unemployment rate rises even higher, to 55.5 per cent. The Runnymede Trust reports this figure has almost doubled since 2008. This further reiterates, there does not seem to be a clear plan that seeks to address the particular problems that people from black and minority ethnic communities may be facing[2].
A study on the impact of poverty on ethnicity commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also indicates:
  • Ethnic minority workers are more likely than White employees to receive less than the living wage, though less so for ethnic minority women than men
  • Although the wage gap relative to White employees is limited within occupations, ethnic minority employees tend to be concentrated in low-paying ones
  • Ethnic minority employees are over-represented in some low-paying sectors such as catering and under-represented in more reasonably paid ones like metal-working and printing
  • Movement in and out of low pay is frequent, but moves towards low pay are more common among all ethnic minority groups than for the White British majority
  • Ethnic minority employees tend to have slightly higher educational qualifications than the white majority but are more likely to be over-qualified for the work they are doing
Does this indicate racial bias in UK job market?
It is very difficult to find credible alternative reasons to explain why many ethnic minority candidates with qualifications, obtained from British universities appear to have a harder time securing decent paying jobs compared to white candidates. Formal and informal feedback from candidates, parents and job advisers seem to point in the same direction.
A critical report by the Department for Work and Pensions shows that “people with white names are 74 percent more likely to get called for an interview following a job application than candidates with an ethnic minority name, despite the two candidates having exactly the same qualifications.” This report involved submitting job applications from fictional white and ethnic minority applicants with equivalent qualifications for advertised vacancies across Britain in order to determine the extent of racial discrimination in the labour market.
It revealed that “a high level of racial discrimination” did exist “across the board” with ethnic minority candidates having to submit nearly twice as many job applications as white candidates to achieve the same level of success. Discrimination continued across gender, still it was noticeably higher for males. High numbers of candidates were denied access to a range of jobs in a range of sectors as a result of having a name associated with an ethnic minority background, the 2009 report concluded[3].
Using information from the 2011 Census, the University of Manchester’s Centre on Dynamics and Ethnicity (CoDE) found that Indian, Chinese and African minorities in the UK achieved greater educational success than other ethnic minorities and white British people. Moreover, with 40 percent; black Africans were singled out as the group with the highest proportion of degree-level qualifications. Notwithstanding these remarkable findings, the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) 2014 report revealed that the unemployment rate for young black people is 45 percent, compared with 19 percent for white Britons.
Even if ethnic minority individuals are excelling in higher education, their academic achievements are not translating into better employment opportunities. Moreover, ethnic minorities are under-represented at senior levels within all organisations and in all sectors.
According to the BBC, a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on race and community concluded, “while unemployment has stayed high across the UK since the recession, ethnic minority women have been disproportionately affected.” The report mentions numerous examples, including the case of one woman who is said to have changed her Muslim-sounding name in order to secure more job interviews. In another case, a black African woman said she was overlooked for a law-based job in favour of two less qualified white women and later offered the job when the women were dismissed for incompetence.
The damning statistics outlined in this blog make a strong case for the need to implement practical policy and programmes towards advancing social and economic mobility for Britain’s minority graduates.
In November 2014, the UK government announced that twelve of Britain’s best- known companies (including Inclusive Employers’ Members Telefonica) were to become ‘Social Mobility Champions’. By meeting a strict set of criteria, these companies would ensure that those from disadvantaged backgrounds had fair access to employment within their company. The criteria included offering non-graduate routes to entry; building relationships with schools in deprived areas, and widening the geographical spread of opportunities.
In 2011, another Inclusive Employers’ Member, The House of Commons, launched ‘The Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme”. The programme aims at helping underprivileged youths, who have a desire to enter into politics by building relevant skills for their future career[4].
More of such schemes should be developed to boost greater investment from industry, for example, employer tuition fee bursaries to undergraduates from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds and high-quality work experience programmes for disadvantaged young people. Employers should be encouraged to hire negotiated quotas of less affluent graduates through high potential schemes. For example, employers might be given tax breaks for the creation of highly skilled jobs that would then be filled by those from minority backgrounds.
Social mobility intensely benefits society in general. Collective social mobility is imperative for the social and economic well-being of any society. If the British Government is serious about facilitating equal opportunity and social mobility, it needs to mitigate the use of financial and social capital to lever educational advantage.
A lack of mobility damages the nation both economically and morally – and eventually could promote social turmoil. The British society has a long way to go to prove that it is a fair and successful society where ethnic minorities are able to fulfil their aspirations. What is needed is a determined national effort on the part of the universities, employers and ultimately the government; who collectively can break through both the glass ceiling and the glass floor so as to make it a genuinely open, mobile and prosperous society. If the government is sincerely determined to make British public life more meritocratic, it must work to re-establish its credentials as a sensible actor that has the interest, not of one section of society at heart but the whole of British society.
Written by Sarita Dash, NIAS