Glaring disparities in ethnic minority and white graduate prospects

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BY Nyla Naseer

Over the past couple of years, graduates have been steaming into good jobs at a healthy pace; a welcome change from the bleak prospects that graduates faced during the recession. Recent starting salaries are quoted as being in the order of £28K (according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which surveys the top 100 graduate recruiters)—not to be sniffed at. Yet, behind this rosy statistic lies a picture of stark inequality in three respects.

Firstly, ethnic minority graduates in general are less likely to be in full-time employment than white graduates six months after graduating. If they do find work, it is more likely to be lower paid and possible not really a ‘graduate’ job.  The Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex for the Observer found that British ethnic minority graduates are between 5 percent and 15 percent less likely to be employed than their white British class-fellows. Pakistani and Bangladeshi graduates were particularly disadvantaged. According to ‘Race into Work’ (Business in the Community) Bangladeshi students were also more likely to end up in lower-paid and part-time work straight after university—which makes progress up the career ladder difficult.

Significant numbers of graduates are now overqualified for their jobs; with many graduates accepting jobs in call centres or coffee shops rather than be unemployed. According to the Office for National Statistics one in six people fit the ‘overqualified’ description. Whilst this affects graduates across the board, it is often graduates from ethnic minority backgrounds, who may be less able to work in new locations, who are at the sharp end. This means that not only are large numbers of BME graduates leaving university in considerable debt, they are also subject to the misery of feeling misled about the value of the degree for which they worked so hard.

Secondly, ethnic minority graduates in work earn significantly less than white graduates with the same qualifications, with the TUC saying that the pay gap between ethnic minorities and white people with the same qualifications actually greater for people with degrees compared to those with just ‘A’ Levels. The Observer study found that things are worse for ethnic minority female graduates. What’s more things get worse over time. Immediately after graduation the gap is 7-10 percent; three-and-a-half years after graduation, most categories of ethnic minority women graduates will earn 12 percent to 15 percent less than white British graduates.

Thirdly, if you live in a disadvantaged area after your degree things are particularly bleak. The Resolution Foundation found that the employment gap between the best and worst performing regions of the UK was 11 percent, but for black, Asian and minority-ethnic (BAME) people the figure was 26 percent.

If ethnic minority graduates can’t access jobs that meet their level of ability or if they are limited to part-time, insecure and poorly-paid roles, this will have profound impact upon their lifetime earning potential. In fact, students who can’t find a job on graduation typically end up with lifetime incomes which are 20-25 percent less than graduates who are immediately employed. Ending up performing tasks under your ability is also very frustrating and soul-destroying, as any bright person will tell you.

The reasons behind the disparities are beyond the scope of this column and ultimately depend on recruitment bias, unconscious and conscious, being tackled at all levels. However, it is interesting that, in the past, the rationale for black and ethnic minority people to end up in less-good jobs included our ‘lack of qualifications’ compared to white peers. This is now not only untrue but, as these figures show, directly contrary to our current reality.

Nyla Naseer ColumnistNyla Naseer is the founder of Advance Merit, a pre-university and higher education private tutoring agency. You can follow her on: https://twitter.com/advmerit https://www.facebook.com/advancemerit https://www.linkedin.com/in/nrnaseer or visit: http://advancemerit.uk

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