PwC removes 2:1 requirement for graduate staff

22 August 2022 3 min. read
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As grades are revealled for students across the country, PwC has announced an important change to its entry requirements for new joiners. Undergraduate and graduate roles will no longer need applicants to have a 2:1 degree, as the firm attempts to diversify its workforce.

Top marks handed out by UK universities rose steeply during the lockdown period, with many students excelling in assessments, away from the pressures of standard exam halls. This has led to widespread criticism from Government officials, however, who claim that if larger numbers of students earn high grades, it leads to ‘grade inflation’ that devalues higher education more broadly.

In response to pressure from the government, and universities regulator The Office for Students, Universities UK and GuildHE, representing institutions across the higher education sector have jointly rolled out plans to reduce the portion of firsts and 2:1s awarded to undergraduates in England – aiming for a reduction of around 25% (more than the pass-rate rose by during the pandemic) over the next two years.

PwC removes 2:1 requirement for graduate staff

Many students understandably feel this is unfair – arbitrarily deflating their future grades by kicking away the ladder students just a year before used to enhance their resumes. With one eye on the world of employment, many will know that their chances of landing a sought-after graduate role will diminish without at least a 2:1. Backing that up, a report earlier in 2022 from the economic thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the average salary for men graduating with a 2:2 was 11% less than those with a 2:1, while women with a 2:2 were penalised by 7%.

In one case at least, though, that is about to change. As PwC looks to attract job starters from a broader range of backgrounds, the professional services firm has announced it will also accept recipients of 2:2 grades for its graduate jobs, and internship and placement programmes.

Ian Elliott, PwC’s chief people officer, said: “While academic achievement has its place, for far too many students there are other factors that influence results. Talent and potential is determined by more than academic grades. Removing the 2:1 criteria will allow us to make real progress in driving social mobility of PwC recruits.”

The Big Four giant is one of the UK’s top graduate employers, and by removing the 2:1 requirement for undergraduate and graduate roles, PwC estimates that it will make over 70,000 more students a year eligible to apply for one of its job. About 17% of students at university do not achieve a 2:1 or first-class degree classification at present – but if present plans are to be believed, that could be about to rise drastically.

PwC’s rivals have also been moving to improve their intake from more diverse social and educational backgrounds. Fellow Big Four member EY scrapped its 2:1 entry requirement in 2015, after it found “no evidence” that success at university correlated with professional achievement.

And while Deloitte and KPMG both still require university leavers to achieve at least a 2:1 to be considered for roles, they both show flexibility for applicants who narrowly miss achieving the grade. At the same time, KPMG recently also became the first large business in the UK to target increasing its working class staff. By 2030, it hopes to have 29% of its partners and directors from that socio-economic background.