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PwC drops 2:1 criteria to boost graduate talent pool


PwC, one of the UK’s largest graduate employers, has dropped the requirement for students to either attain a first or 2:1 degree for its graduate roles. 


15th Aug 2022
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Graduates looking to break into a Big Four accountancy firm can breathe a sigh of relief if they’re not awarded a 2.1 degree or above.

Against the backdrop of a fierce talent war, PwC lowered the entry requirements for graduates as the firm aims to increase the socio-diversity of the recruits.  

“Whilst 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 and so removing the 2:1 entry requirement will open our roles to a greater pool of talent,” said Ian Elliott, chief people officer at PwC.

Currently, anyone looking to clinch graduate roles, internships and placements at PwC must have 2:1 or a first. But according to the Big Four firm, today’s move means more than 70,000 more students a year will now be able to access its graduate programme. 

PwC’s shift away from hiring based on degree success comes seven years after removing UCAS points as entry criteria for its graduate roles. 

Driving social mobility

“We were fortunate to have over 95,000 applications to our graduate and school leaver programmes this year. 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. Removing the 2:1 criteria will allow us to make real progress in driving social mobility of PwC recruits,” said PwC’s Elliot

“We know that competition for our graduate roles will be as tough as ever but we’re confident that our own aptitude and behavioural testing can assess a candidate’s potential.”

PwC isn’t the only Big Four firm to focus on improving social mobility. Last year, KPMG announced its aim to recruit 29% of its partners and directors from a working-class background by 2030. 

Profession reacts

The news received mixed reviews on Any Answers. Ireallyshouldknowthisbut said, “I would have thought if you can’t get a 2:1 you would struggle a bit on your exams, but I guess there are 101 'it depends' in that one.”

Whilst David Ex wondered if the PwC selection process is likely to be a “better predictor of suitability than class of degree”. He added, “If you think having a 2:1 degree makes you a better accountant, I have to disagree.” 

Ryan Saward, a director at Bristol-based firm Steele Financial, trained at Big Four firm KPMG and gained a first at university agrees that accountancy firms on a whole should look beyond university degrees.

“A university degree shows that an individual has the capability of studying to a high level, is motivated and has a desire to succeed. However, candidates often have so much more to offer other than a university degree, such as practical work experience, interests, other achievements etc. which should always be considered when reviewing an application.”

Time to look beyond university degrees?

Many accountancy firms are struggling to recruit talent. Data from the Accounting Excellence Awards programme found that 53% of entrants put recruitment and retention as their biggest challenge in 2022. This is ahead of the 46% that had recruitment and retention as the biggest challenge in 2019. 

As PwC has stepped back from its degree criteria to increase the talent pool, the rest of the profession is looking beyond degrees to find the right candidates.

“I’m a firm believer that you need to look at the individual overall and how they fit the position,” agreed Saward. “Practical, relevant experience to me would be much more useful to my firm than a university degree, as that degree could be in an area that is completely irrelevant and therefore may offer limited value to my firm.”

Saward is the only one with a degree at Steele Financial but sees other routes into the profession as just as valuable. 

“If I’m honest, I barely use any of what I learned during my degree day to day, my ACA qualification is something that has been much more useful! 

“The only reason I completed my degree was because it was part of the course my employer KPMG was offering. Personally, I feel the vocational/apprenticeship route has far more to offer and enables practical skills to be developed at a much faster rate.

Is PwC right to look beyond degrees? Are other qualities and experience more important when recruiting? Or is it important that candidates have the foundation of a 2:1 or first? 

Replies (9)

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By Hugo Fair
15th Aug 2022 17:21

I guess if just one person with a 2:2 who *otherwise has all the required competences/skills* gets a job then that's a positive.
But how likely is that to happen to any noticeable degree (hah!) when 83% of undergraduates are already achieving a (devalued) 2:1 or a first?

Given that evaluation during recruitment is anything but scientific, the most likely outcome is the continuing random hires of people who 'seem to fit' (and statistically are very likely to have a 2:1 or a 1st) ... plus a smattering of those with a 2:2 who are either head & shoulders obviously more capable than other applicants or will be seen as token appts.

They already get over 95,000 applications (for how many vacancies?) in a year, so adding a few more isn't likely to improve the chances of those applying - or probably the outcome for PWC.

And conflating this 'story' with "KPMG announced its aim to recruit 29% of its partners and directors from a working class background by 2030" strikes me as cack-handed - with its inference that there's some kind of connection between a working-class origin and getting a 2:2!

Thanks (3)
Replying to Hugo Fair:
By graydjames
16th Aug 2022 11:38

"with its inference that there's some kind of connection between a working-class origin and getting a 2:2"

There is a very clear link between every other level of educational achievement and social class; I do not imagine, even for one moment, that degree classification is any different.

Thanks (2)
Replying to graydjames:
By Hugo Fair
16th Aug 2022 14:11

I wouldn't presume to comment on what you personally can or cannot imagine.

However, whilst there are stats that show a connection (correlation would be taking it too far) between social deprivation and a lack of university education (particularly at the 'ivy league' end of that group), there is no longer general acceptance that working-class is defined solely (or even primarily) by social deprivation.

No correlative factors have been identified in official stats relating to degree levels (as opposed to subjects) ... and likewise there are no official stats trying to correlate any aspect of educational attainment with class origins (if only because there's no agreement as to the definitions of differing classes).

So I stand by my original comment and refute your claim of a "very clear link".

Thanks (2)
By More unearned luck
15th Aug 2022 20:06

"PwC drops 2:1 criteria to boost graduate talent pool"

If they also drop the requirement of writing grammatical English, your headline writer could apply.

Edit: I see that that PWC's 'chief people officer'* also got it wrong.

*What is the difference between that job title and personnel manager?

Thanks (2)
Replying to More unearned luck:
By Paul Barclay
16th Aug 2022 12:39

As similar as the role of Chief Financial Officer is to a Finance Manager, in other words a world apart!

The argument these days is that a CPO is more important to a business than at any other time. Why, the employee experience and staff retention, which is the huge and costly challenge these days

Thanks (0)
Replying to More unearned luck:
By flightdeck
16th Aug 2022 12:45

In reality very little difference. Just job title inflation.

Thanks (1)
By Postingcomments
16th Aug 2022 10:39

It's so they can meet their woke hiring quotas, innit?

Honestly, if someone either hasn't got the brains or the work ethic to get a 2:1, they won't last long. Well, they might in audit if they can talk football and golf etc.

Thanks (0)
By ourpetsheadsarefallingoff
16th Aug 2022 11:03

With the current recruitment situation I think we're ready to drop basic literacy and numeracy from our criteria, let alone a bloody 2:1.

Thanks (1)
By bobsto12
16th Aug 2022 16:17

A 2.2 was always regarded as a drinking man's degree when I was young so maybe a few boys and girls with Desmonds will liven things up a bit.

Thanks (1)