University leader calls for change to government procurement policies

“If we are to challenge inequality and make progress on social mobility, political parties need to consider much more carefully how they can make a difference. Politicians must recognise the academic quality and excellence of universities that have strong track records in making higher education accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds and challenge those employers who regularly only recruit from a few universities."

Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Gunn

In a keynote speech at a Westminster Briefing Conference to review the recommendations of the ‘State of the Nation’ report, Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Gunn, chair of the university think-tank million+ has called for government and employers to adopt new measures to improve social mobility.

Professor Gunn endorsed the criticism of employers who only recruit graduates from a small number of universities and called on government to use its own procurement tenders to ensure that companies bidding for government contracts adopt recruitment practices that are open to graduates from all universities.

Professor Gunn also called on Ministers to make a public commitment to protect the Student Opportunity Allocation in 2015-16. In March, the government withdrew a proposal to cut the fund by 60 per cent following a campaign by Vice-Chancellors, students and MPs.

Professor Gunn said: “If we are to challenge inequality and make progress on social mobility, political parties need to consider much more carefully how they can make a difference. Politicians must recognise the academic quality and excellence of universities that have strong track records in making higher education accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds and challenge those employers who regularly only recruit from a few universities.

“This milk-round practice of recruitment and the unpaid internships which are also offered too often, have no place in modern Britain. They are part of the problem and a barrier to social mobility and not the solution. They also have the effect of creating a bias, presumably unintended, against students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and students who start university courses later in life, the majority of whom do not study at this small number of ‘milk-round’ universities.

“The Government should amend its procurement policies to ensure that companies bidding for government contracts adopt recruitment practices which are fair to all graduates.

“Universities also need a commitment from Ministers that there will be no further reductions or interference in the Student Opportunity Allocation in the 2015-16 academic year. The Allocation is one of the few elements of funding that universities still receive and it plays a crucial role in ensuring that they can support the progression of students from a wide range of backgrounds.

“The proposal to cut this funding by 60 per cent was eventually withdrawn but if the Government wants its commitment to social mobility to be taken seriously then the last thing it should do is to try and cut the Student Opportunity Allocation again or demand that it should target a smaller number of students.”

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