Want diverse talent? Lose the ‘2:1 or above’ requirement

Posted by Liz on 11 Feb 2021

Did you know, 60% of Black students, 71% of Asian students and 77% of Mixed Ethnicity students receive a 2:1 or above for their degree, compared to 82% of White students? Office for Students Ethnicity Data)

Degree grades are just one metric employers use to assess candidates, but this criteria disadvantages Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity students. 

If your organisation is looking to be more inclusive and widen participation, it’s time to lose or rethink the ‘2:1 or above requirement’ for your roles. 

Why does this attainment gap exist?

The Office for Students (OfS) have investigated the ethnicity degree-awarding gap and the data shows that there remain significant unexplained differences.

Ultimately, ethnic minorities are not given a level playing field compared to their white counterparts due to institutional barriers and inequalities.

OfS' degree attainment topic briefing includes effective advice on approaches to tackle this issue and from the 31st of October 2019, 112 providers have set targets related to closing the degree-awarding gap. For example, Kingston University has an Inclusive Consultant Curriculum Programme to specifically address this challenge.

Much needs to be done to close this gap, but whilst an unfair ethnicity degree-awarding gap exists, it’s important employers reconsider their assessment criteria to widen participation. 

For further information, we would also recommend the Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority Student Attainment At UK Universities.

What changes have already been made by employers?

The majority of ISE employers still include grade requirements as part of the entry requirements for their job opportunities. However, slowly but surely, more and more organisations are moving away from this. 

In 2013/14, 76% of ISE members used 2:1 degree criteria. By 2018/19, 58% were using the 2:1 degree criteria. Whilst this change is extremely encouraging to see, the progress is slow and many employers still need to make changes in their organisations.

So why do 58% of employers still include degree grades as part of their entry criteria? 

There are two main reasons: 

  • the assumption that grades directly link to competence

  • grades being used as a sifting mechanism to cut down a high volume of candidates

Let’s break them down....

1. Do degree grades correlate with performance?

Many employers and institutions would now agree otherwise and have the data to evidence this.

As quoted by Donna Miller, European & UK HR Director, Enterprise Rent-A-Car... “Someone with a lower degree grade could have a lot of skills that are useful in the workplace. It could be they’ve had to work full-time to fund their studies or had family or caring responsibilities or have just been really active doing valuable extracurricular things on campus”.

They found no correlation between in-job performance and degree background.

Adding to this, Fujitsu recently looked at all their hiring data and removed their degree requirement as they found no correlation between in-job performance and degree background. Since removing their 2.1 degree requirement their intake is the most diverse it has ever been. For example, applications from students that received free school meals increased from 10% to 14%.

2. Degree grades used as a sifting mechanism

We understand that HR teams are often small, busy teams - with early careers sometimes being just one of a HR professional's many responsibilities. Reducing time spent in the early stages of sifting is paramount and attainment levels have often provided this simple, yet effective cull of applications.

Many employers are looking to new recruitment tools such as contextualised and strengths-based recruitment to test if someone is the right fit for their business.

Strength and competency-based assessment are a better marker of a candidates suitability than their degree grade.


Abbie Lopez, Emerging Talent Manager at Ocado, shared how removing the 2.1 and 1st attainment requirement - alongside introducing a new assessment process - increased the number of Black heritage students they hired from 0% within their 2018 intake to 12.5% in 2020.

In addition, they widened participation from other ethnic groups. For example, they increased the number of students that identified as Asian from 0% in 2018 to 17% in 2020.    

So, what assessment processes did they implement?

They started by removing CV sifting and replaced this with a two-part digital readiness assessment including logical reasoning and a personality-based test. Those who successfully passed this stage were invited to a video interview where six of the seven questions were assessed by AI to significantly reduce any bias from the application process.

These bold changes dramatically increased the diversity of their application talent pool and in turn, hires into the business.


Removing degree grades from job criteria is not a lowering of the bar, and nor will it result in a reduction in quality candidates. 

Doing this makes recruitment more inclusive because of the inequalities in attainment. 

And there’s a business case for doing this. Organisations with a diverse workforce outperform those with less diverse workforces. 

“Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 15% and those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 35%" (Forbes).

Therefore, in requiring a 2:1 or above, you are also limiting the potential performance of the business even if your intention is to hire quality candidates.

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Here at RMP, we are committed to helping employers level the playing field, and it's something we truly believe in, so please get in touch to find out how we can help your organisation make your early talent recruitment more inclusive.