Looking at Social Mobility through a different lens

One of the many reasons that I was excited to take the role of Head of Careers & Employability at the University of Bedfordshire back in 2014 was my passionate belief in fair access to higher education. I was in that role for 3 years before stepping back into the talent attraction space where I now have the opportunity to share my experiences.

Getting to know the students at the University, seeing the types of organisations that were, and importantly weren’t, coming on to campus to support the employability agenda, made me realise something fairly fundamental. While there are many of us wanting to provide solutions to support social mobility, there are also still many that are either doing so from their own place of privilege, or unfortunately, from a place that is still influenced by outdated stereotypes. Unless we acknowledge our own privileged positions, we’re at risk of making lots of assumptions rather than creating and developing solutions that students can really relate to.

At White Label, we’ve conducted some research to help give a voice to students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. This voice enables us to share some core insights into their decision-making processes, their on-campus behaviours and their attitudes to employability-related activities.

Our research shows that even university choice is more complicated than many people assume. For example, most of our research pool said their selection had been due to family commitments, financial reasons, and confidence issues that meant they wanted to stay close to home. Understanding this alongside all the evidence that students from more disadvantaged backgrounds do less well at school, allows us to begin to question assumptions and stereotypes about the students that go to ‘lower league table’ universities.

We also discovered that a key barrier for disadvantaged students is ‘time’. Many of the students that we spoke to do not spend much time on campus outside of their timetabled activities. We heard many stories from students who were juggling commitments. Many had part-time jobs, necessary to fund their studies. Others were required to care for older and younger family members. We also heard how some students couldn’t even afford to make it to a job or placement interview.

Within our paper, we share many more details as well as some hints and tips for employers wanting to make a real difference. There is no quick fix solution but understanding the student more and tackling prejudices and stereotypes is a good start. To find out more contact Cathy Hyde on

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