AGR Blog

Enhance social mobility with university partnerships



Laura Brammar, Senior Careers Consultant at The Careers Group, University of London, shares an employer initiative that’s helping less advantaged students enhance their career prospects.

While many employers are eager to tap new seams of talent and widen their pool of applicants, universities are equally keen to explore ways to enhance the career development and social mobility of their less advantaged students. 

A key way of achieving this is through experiential work based learning programmes, such as an award winning initiative led by a careers team at Queen Mary, University of London.

The institution has a significant widening participation student population with 42% of UK undergraduate students in academic year 2014/15 in receipt of a university bursary. Data from the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education (DLHE) survey showed that six months following graduation, bursary holders were 14% more likely to be unemployed and 30% more likely to be in non-graduate jobs than their more privileged counterparts.

The programme, originally supported by J.P. Morgan, now funded centrally by the institution, involved facilitating teams of students from low-income backgrounds, many of whom are bursary holders, to conduct mini-consultancy projects with local businesses.  Beyond the valuable work experience gained with the businesses, students were also provided with wrap-around support from careers staff from their institution. 

The evaluation data from the programme shows that being involved in the scheme has had a significant impact on the way less advantaged students consider their skills and future career opportunities.

For example, 83% agreed the programme made a difference to the types of jobs or placements they would apply for in the future and  47 out of 48 students felt the programme would have a lasting impact on their employability, in terms of improving their CV, affirming their skills and providing examples of competencies for future applications. 

As one participant said:

“Looking back on it I think having not done the programme I would have been less ambitious with my careers prospects.”

Beyond widening student ideas about possible career directions, the scheme also strengthened the student self-efficacy and conviction in their own skills:

“It has definitely increased my [career thinking] confidence; I always thought ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not equal to others’. Now, having done this project and got so much good feedback, I think ‘maybe I can do that too!’ I feel confident and entitled to go for other things which I wouldn’t have before.”

But the positive outcomes of the scheme were not only limited to the students. Seventy four per cent of employers reported they would ‘consider recruiting from our project team if we had a graduate position available’ with many commenting on the quality of the work the students produced:

“The students delivered and the data analysis was even more impressive than what we hoped for. It gave us the resources at a crucial point in our growing venture.”

If you’re an employer eager to contribute to enhanced social mobility, work with universities in an imaginative way and also source valuable talent which you may have overlooked in the past, engagement in such a scheme could be a worthy investment of your time, energy and resources. Perhaps we all need to look beyond our current boundaries, as one participant reflected:

“It’s all about powering through potential self-limiting beliefs, learning as much as you can and growing as both a person and a professional.”

To read the study in full: Roberts, R., Brammar, L. and Cobb, F. (2017) Experiential work-based learning as a social mobility mechanism for widening participation students. Journal of the National Institute of Career Education and Counselling, 38, 44-51. To learn more about how the programme is currently delivered contact Lindsey Shirah at QMUL Careers and Enterprise on

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