Santander UK will no longer require graduates applying to work there to achieve a 2:1 degree or higher, as part of efforts to boost the socioeconomic diversity of its recruits.
The bank said the change would lead to an extra 64,000 more applicants being eligible for its annual graduate scheme and reflected the fact that university performance did not guarantee success in the workplace.
“Academic achievement is important, but it is only one of many factors we look at when searching for new talent,” Santander’s HR director, Anouska Ramsay, said. “We believe potential can be found anywhere and this move reinforces our commitment to finding the best candidates from a wide range of backgrounds.”
The change forms part of Santander’s efforts to boost the proportion of employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in senior roles from 28% to 35% by 2030.
City firms, which are still trying to address gender and ethnic diversity across the financial sector, are increasingly turning their attention to social and economic barriers that are holding back their staff.
A report released in April by the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank concluded that access to “elite jobs” was often determined by a combination of the subject a student studied, where they went to school and how well they performed.
It found that as a result, male graduates with a 2:2 degree earned 11% less on average than those with a 2:1, while female graduates were penalised by 7%.
Such concerns over equality of access have prompted the City of London’s socioeconomic taskforce to set a target of half of senior leaders across the UK’s financial and professional services to come from working class or “intermediate” backgrounds by 2030.
“We need to break the ‘class’ ceiling,” the taskforce’s chair, Catherine McGuinness, said last year. “Removing unfair barriers to progression is not only the right thing to do, it will enable firms to boost productivity, retention levels and innovation.”
Santander UK’s competitive graduate programme, which places graduates across the bank including across its audit, commercial banking and risk departments, will take only 68 recruits this September. However, successful applicants will receive career coaching and mentoring from senior leaders, and will be offered a permanent role at the end of the two to three-year programme.
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The decision to drop the 2:1 degree minimum follows a similar move by PwC last year, with the accountancy firm saying it was trying to attract job starters from a broader range of backgrounds, including those from lower-income households.
The rival accountancy firm EY scrapped its 2:1 entry requirement in 2015, having found “no evidence” that success at university correlated with professional achievement.