The top firms shouldn't be full of just Oxbridge graduatesGic

Institution-blind applications are in vogue among big firms and graduate recruiters. Deloitte and Clifford Chance are the two private firms most people have probably heard of which have followed this route recently. Both are large, hugely reputable firms, the former in consultancy and the latter in law.

A ‘blind’ application is used to remove the inherent bias that might creep into the recruitment process by ensuring recruiters can’t see what university or school someone went to. Firms are adopting them to stop themselves becoming exclusive old boys clubs for Oxbridge alumni.

Jack Drury, CUSU presidential candidate, has declared his opposition to institution-blind applications processes, saying we need to make our degrees count and to preserve their worth. Maybe if institution-blind applications were what he implies they were, applications which ignore completely what university a candidate went to, this would be justified. After all, Cambridge students do work hard and surely that deserves credit.

But the reality is, no one does applications like this, or is proposing to. Clifford Chance and Deloitte are only institution-blind in the sense that the people who interview you won’t know what university you’re from. That doesn’t mean it won’t be taken into account, but it does mean that no Oxbridge alumni interviewer will be inherently biased in your favour when they come to assess your interview performance. Seeing as interviewees should be judged on how they actually do in their interview, this seems only right. When it comes to actually picking candidates, employers will look at your interview performance alongside your qualifications and degree. Like getting into Oxbridge, it’s a holistic process, which is supposedly done in such a way as to eliminate bias.

“You deserve a job if you’re good at it, not because you wield the social capital of Cambridge”

In fact, a Russell Group spokesperson refused to comment on these changes as they did not see them as adversely affecting their students. That’s because these types of recruitment aren’t about devaluing Oxbridge degrees, but stopping a completely unfair stranglehold they have over every sector. It means good candidates will be able to get jobs, no matter which university they went to.

The reality is that otherwise we have a bottleneck which unfairly removes extremely good candidates because they went to a non-Oxbridge/Russell Group university. Working in a law firm requires a completely different set of skills to getting enough A*s at A Level to get into Cambridge. You deserve a job if you’re good at it, not because you wield the social capital of Cambridge. If Cambridge degrees are as worthwhile as I think they are, then the intelligence and skills you gain will shine through the applications process when it’s shown on your CV.

Opposing institution-blind applications in this form is opposing something that no one is doing or seriously planning to do. It’s like opposing a manned mission to Pluto. Institution-blind applications are essentially a myth. Admittedly, it’s a very powerful myth which appeals to Cambridge students. No one wants to come out of three years of spending over 40 hours a week studying to find that it doesn’t help them get a job. There is a difference between institution-blind interviews and the institution-blind applications. The first are a welcome reality; the second do not exist.

The fact is that inherent, unconscious bias is a proven fact of life. The exclusive stranglehold that Oxbridge alumni hold on positions at the top of public life or in the City is not just down to the fact our degrees are harder. It comes from a perception of Oxbridge as superior by a mile to any other university, held on behalf of the alumni who employ the following generation of graduates, but also on behalf of the public. It’s a perception fed by our pretty college buildings, snobbery (which is academic but inherently connected to class).

Bias can come about in numerous way, whether it’s an offhand comment an interviewer makes (‘Oh, I went there, I had the turret room in the old court’) which gives the candidate confidence, the shared habits and mannerisms learnt in your time here or through a inherent bias that favours Oxbridge candidates even when they perform the same as non-Oxbridge candidates (maybe they were just having a bad day: after all, they are at Cambridge). Oxbridge may deserve merit, but it doesn’t deserve to be the breeding ground of a snobbish elite. When you add the class context of Oxbridge into the picture, an Oxbridge domination becomes a middle-class public and grammar school domination.

With Oxbridge’s failure to represent the rest of the country, institution-blind applications represent a useful step to tackle the massive issue of social mobility nationally. They’re a move towards a genuine meritocracy where those who get jobs are the best at them. If the value of our degree is in the skills it teaches us, then we have nothing to fear or lose from institution-blind recruitment. If, however, you expect the social value of Oxbridge to allow you to waltz into a nice job with a lucrative salary, you deserve to be disappointed

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