If you want the top job in your company – does it really matter whether you have a degree? And does it matter where and what you studied? Does it matter if you have an MBA? Read on to find out….
A couple of years ago EY announced that they were removing the degree classification from their entry requirements as there was no evidence to suggest that success at university correlates with achievement in later life.
The UK has seen the biggest increase of university attendance in the whole of Europe with over 48% of school leavers moving in to higher education, as opposed to just 19% in 1989* and yet more than a quarter of jobs in the UK listed degree as an essential requirement**.
But does a degree necessarily mean a great business leader? And does it matter whether you went to Oxbridge or other Russell Group university?
Views of clients differ wildly on this point depending on the type of company and its culture; management and strategy consultants are still the most likely to focus on where a candidate studied. A Partner of well-known consultancy once replied to me when asked how important education was to them when recruiting at senior level – “not very, we’re quite diverse, we recruit from Oxford as well.” It is extremely unlikely to make it to Partner level at a strategy consultancy without a degree from a top university; typically over half of UK Partners attended Oxford or Cambridge. On the flip side many major contractors don’t consider a degree as an essential requirement for a senior management role.
We were interested to find out how important having a degree is if you want to make it to the top of the wider transport and infrastructure market, so we took a look at the current UK CEO/MDs in the industry.
Unsurprisingly, of the sample of 100 companies that we looked at, 98% of UK MD’s and CEO’s have at least a university degree. 8% studied at Oxford or Cambridge. 17% have an MBA. 49% studied engineering and only 14% studied finance. This re-iterates the past trends that in the last 30 years, companies have been using education as a key requirement to determine candidate quality at all levels of entry.
Many of our clients are changing their outlooks on education. One of the main reasons for this is diversity. A focus on a specific credential, such as a degree, cuts off a large segment of the market who are more than capable of excelling in the role, but came from a background that didn’t lead them down the university route.
Diversity in the workplace focuses mainly on gender, age and ethnicity. While there are no laws governing social discrimination at present, it doesn’t mean it should be ignored. This is particularly prevalent now as the cost of higher education has dramatically increased over the last 5 years.
As perceptions change and more and more companies look to explore candidates without higher education, it will be interesting to look at the data in 20 years’ time to see how many Managing Directors and CEO’s in the industry have a degree.
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