Social mobility charity helps reverse the progression gap for disadvantaged students accessing top graduate roles

7th January 2021

Released today, data from upReach’s annual Impact Report details how students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are overcoming barriers to secure graduate-level employment. The analysis reveals that students supported by upReach (referred to as “Associates”) not only enter highly skilled employment at a considerably higher rate than other students, but also secure a graduate salary £4,000 higher than the national average.

Read the full impact report here.

Despite an increase in the number of young people from low socio-economic backgrounds getting into university, less-advantaged students are still significantly less likely to secure well-paid graduate roles than their more-advantaged peers – even if they out-perform them academically. A 2019 study conducted by LSE’s Dr Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison found that, amongst Russell Group universities, students from working-class backgrounds who graduate with a first class degree are still less likely to secure an elite job than a more privileged student who received a 2:2.

The cause of this progression gap is attributed to a variety of factors, with less-advantaged students often facing barriers including:

  • Less access to professional networks through their family and school, hindering their ability to learn about career pathways and gain early work experience.
  • Fewer opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities at school, leading to starting university less used to a culture of “getting involved.” As a result, they can be less likely to join societies and clubs, or take on positions of leadership and responsibility.
  • Reduced access to careers support via their school or college, minimising options for exploring career opportunities prior to attending university.
  • Limited financial support from parents, making it difficult for them to relocate for work and take greater risks (both in relation to their career and financially).
  • Difficulty in accruing the financial, social and cultural capital that is necessary for career progression.

As a result of the current pandemic, the challenges are even greater for less-advantaged students. From cancelled summer internships and reduced opportunities for networking both on and off campus, to the difficulties of studying at home in crowded households, these challenges have created a “double disadvantage” on top of the existing structural class barriers these students already face.

These additional challenges reinforce the importance of initiatives to address the progression gap. upReach today releases the latest edition of its annual Impact Report, which details how students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are overcoming barriers to graduate-level employment.

upReach’s analysis found that 86.5% of Associates (the name given to students supported by upReach) who graduated in 2018 were in highly skilled employment or further study 15 months after graduation, with a higher percentage of Associates achieving a positive outcome compared with students from the same academic background. This is supported by analysis on 2017 graduates conducted by the University of Exeter, which found that upReach Associates from the university not only outperformed other less-advantaged students after graduation, they also outperformed their more advantaged peers.

To corroborate their findings, upReach also worked with the charity Pro Bono Economics to evaluate the impact their programmes have on Associates’ employment outcomes. PBE’s analysis found that upReach Associates entered highly skilled employment at a rate 12.1 percentage points higher than an estimated rate for students from similar socio-economic backgrounds. Furthermore, those in highly skilled employment had a median average salary of £28,000, £4,000 higher than the national average.

One example of a student who overcame these socioeconomic challenges is Josh, who took part in upReach’s Aim Programme, which is designed to support Associates making applications to one of upReach’s partner employers. After successfully enrolling on the Aim Programme, Josh was given access to exclusive employer insight days, mock interviews and mentoring sessions, all with the objective of supporting his applications for internships and graduate programmes.

He comments,

“Through upReach I have been successful in applications to EDIP, SDIP [Civil Service Fast Stream undergraduate internship opportunities] and now the Civil Service Fast Stream, where I will be joining the Diplomatic Service stream. upReach have honestly been pivotal in my success in these applications; constant contact with my Programme Coordinator, and the resources on my.upReach, have been amazing.”

Founded in 2012, upReach has grown rapidly from an initial cohort of 39 Associates to now supporting over 2,000 students from less-advantaged backgrounds this academic year.

John Craven, Chief Executive of upReach, comments:

“The Impact Report demonstrates how upReach not only closes the progression gap, but can reverse it, realising the otherwise unrealised potential of hundreds of disadvantaged students every year. The pandemic is having a devastating impact on disadvantaged students, but with the right support, they need not be held back. At upReach, we believe all students should have equal opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their background.”

The full impact report can be read here.