PwC, one of the UK’s largest graduate employers, has said it will no longer just look for new recruits with a first or 2:1 degree.
The firm said accepting applicants with lower second class degrees would help increase the socio-economic diversity of its workforce.
“Talent and potential is determined by more than academic grades,” PwC said.
Around 14% of graduates received a lower second class degree, or 2:2, last year.
UK universities award degrees that are classified in four categories: a first, an upper second (2:1), a lower second (2:2), and third class honours.
Typically professional services firms, including large city, accountancy and law firms, have required students to have a 2:1 or above.
In the past decade, universities have awarded a higher proportion of first class degrees and fewer 2:2 degrees while the proportion of students receiving a 2:1 has remained fairly flat.
Recent research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that what class of degree you makes a big difference to earning potential five years down the line. It said a 2:2 degree was associated with a 6.9% lower earnings for women and 10.9% lower earnings for men, compared with a 2:1.
PwC said it was removing the requirement for all its graduate roles, internships and placements in order to open up opportunities for more people and improve social mobility.
“Whilst academic achievement has its place, for far too many students there are other factors that influence results,” said Ian Elliott, chief people officer at PwC.
“This move isn’t primarily about attracting more applications but opening our roles to students from a broader range of backgrounds, including those from lower income households,” he added.
The big four accountancy firms – PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and EY – began to loosen the criteria for their traditional graduate recruitment programmes over six years ago. EY and PwC both said then they would move away from the reliance on academic qualifications and put more emphasis on their own assessments.
Since then, disruption to schooling and universities during the Covid pandemic has focused attention on the extra challenges faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
A-level grades were inflated in 2020 and 2021 as a result of measures to help combat the disruption, which had a bigger impact in less affluent communities. But this year’s A-level results, due out later this week, are expected to move some of the way back towards pre-pandemic standards, resulting in fewer achieving the top grades and fears that disadvantaged students will miss out on university places.
This year PwC has recruited around 1,200 graduates and approximately 15% of them are from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
The accountancy firm said it recruits at all UK universities, not just the Russell Group, an association of 24 of the UK’s elite universities, and runs coaching and skills sessions to support candidates from diverse backgrounds through the application process.
KPMG last year became one of the first large UK businesses to set a target for the number of employees it has from working class backgrounds.
It wants 29% of its partners and directors to come from this category by 2030, compared to 23% of partners and 20% of directors at the moment. The firm said that while it expects student applicants to be “working toward” a 2:1 degree, it assessed candidates on a case by case basis and would consider those with lower second class degrees.
Deloitte uses contextualised academic data, taking into account he economic and personal background of an applicant. Some universities also take this approach, viewing B grades at generally lower achieving schools as the equivalent of A grades at schools that typically produce stronger results.
Around 39% of the UK workforce are working class, according to data from the Social Mobility Commission.