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Elite degree is springboard to success

Category: In the News
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Our Chief Executive, Lee Elliot Major, is quoted in the Times on the over-representation of Oxbridge graduates in elite professions.

A degree, and preferably a good one from an elite university, is a crucial ingredient for doing well in life, say academics in America and Germany who studied almost 12,000 leaders in the United States, including businessmen, politicians and judges.

Their aim was to analyse whether there was any truth in the perception that the most successful people did not have degrees, the Times Educational Supplement reported. They found that the vast majority attended university and many went to a handful of leading institutions.

Jonathan Wai, of Duke University in North Carolina, and Heiner Rindermann, of Chemnitz University of Technology, in Saxony, found that 94 per cent of the leaders they asked had attended university.

Across the US, between 2 and 5 per cent of undergraduates attend elite universities but their graduates account for more than 80 per cent of Forbes magazine’s list of powerful people. A third of multimillionaires in the survey had graduated from one of these universities.

The academics said: “For students with talent and motivation to make it to the top of US society an elite college might just help you get there — whether it’s the networks you acquire or the brand on your resumé.”

Lee Elliot Major, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, says that figures were similar in the UK; about 1 per cent of the population attends Oxford or Cambridge, but more than 70 per cent of barristers and judges are drawn from those two universities.

“What’s striking is that the returns of an elite education are getting bigger with every generation,” he said. “Getting that Oxbridge or Ivy League degree means so much more now. It’s astonishing really.”

He said that attending an elite university counted for much more in the US than in the UK. “If you get an elite degree in the US, it really does catapult you into the professional elite,” he said.

“Here, while it clearly helps, it’s not the whole story. If you’re a state-school-educated student, even having a Cambridge degree, you’re still less likely to progress up the professions than your independent-school counterpart.”

See the story online here.