It feels that most things are seen through a Brexit lens at the moment. The world has been turned upside down and takes a while for our vision to readjust.

We are a global economy and power, but we have been so inside a partnership and with shared sovereignty.

We are still a global economy and power, but the side-shift in perception means we need 360 vision on partnering. Fundamentally, this means we have to have a lot of great things going for us to be good partners: a strong, open economy, enlightened foreign policy, a powerful science and knowledge base, and, with absolute necessity, the best educated workforce in the world. This is at the heart of the government’s industrial strategy.

I see the social mobility challenge through this lens. Business, government and the higher education system have a responsibility to help get first generation white and BAME students into good jobs, not just because that is what a good society does, but because they have enormous potential, have often overcome huge hardships, and therefore can either start their own businesses or drive forward others.

I am not pretending that this is a simple problem. Although they are still under-represented in some areas, it has taken decades to increase the percentage of such students to reasonable levels in universities. A wise Vice-Chancellor told me recently that although we are solving the diversity challenge to get students to the university front door, there are systematic diversity challenges once these students are in university and go on to jobs.

At a very personal level, I am deeply sympathetic to this. I was one of those kids. Before I went to the University of Strathclyde (which l loved btw), I wouldn’t even walk past the student union because I thought somehow the students were in some undefined way better than me, in some way more knowledgeable or experienced.

And even when I overcame that hurdle, anyone offering me unpaid work experience in the summer would have been met with blank incomprehension. That’s when I earned some money. These trends continue today, and yet we know without a shadow of doubt that all students deserve a taste of the range of different things they might do or companies they might join.

Big businesses are making decisive moves to recruit beyond their previously narrow confines and yet the very students they are searching for are the ones who often lack the social capital necessary to a) apply, b) negotiate the interviews, and c) feel comfortable with the culture. It’s the equivalent of me not walking past the students’ union.

At the National Centre for Universities and Business we are, it must be said, obsessed with this challenge. We have studied it intensively, and we are developing a work experience app called BrandU with partner universities to ensure blind screening of opportunities. The industrial strategy tells us that brexit means unlocking our best talent. The world is diverse, let’s make sure that our workforce is as well.

By Dr David Docherty,
National Centre CEO

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