University of East London is driving ‘Diversity of Thought’ with employer partnerships

Aug 16, 2023 | Case studies, Diversity, Home Featured

ISE Award winner University of East London is helping employers engage diverse talent through its partnership programme, explains Director of Careers and Student Enterprise, Cherise Basslian.

A rite of passage for university students across the UK is securing a coveted graduate job, and it is an aspiration many students share.

However, with these schemes vastly oversubscribed and graduates applying for an average of 25 roles, it is a competitive marketplace, with those from marginalised groups both less likely to apply and to be successful.

Employer partnership programme

University of East London’s (UEL) Diversity of Thought Employer Partnership Programme was conceptualised as a vehicle for driving aspiration and social mobility.

Through consultation with students, staff, and industry we were able to identify the common challenges faced in accessing graduate level roles within aspirational companies.

We identified that many of our graduates simply didn’t even consider these organisations at all and for those that did apply, the competitive selection processes were alien and daunting.

In 2022 Cibyl surveyed over 65,000 students from across 160 universities. Findings showed that UEL students were 26% less likely to aspire to secure a graduate scheme when compared to their wider student counterparts at other higher education institutions.

Driving diversity

The Diversity of Thought (DoT) Programme was developed to directly address the key stages of the recruitment cycle where those from marginalised backgrounds would be less likely to be represented.

In collaboration with our partners the programme is co-created, with pick and mix elements to ensure it is complementary to existing partner recruitment processes whilst providing maximum impact in driving a step change in diversifying the talent pipeline.

With our partners, including AWS, Siemens, ITV, WPP, Dataminr and MSG (New York), we co-create a bespoke programme with a compulsory element of one-to-one mentoring, exposure to the professional environment and work-based learning experience.

Impact studies at UEL showed that 75% of students who accessed mentoring in their second year achieved highly skilled employment, compared with 61.5% of students who were mentored in their final year.

For this reason, most of our DoT programmes are delivered to second year students, allowing sufficient time for them to understand industry standards, work culture and application processes.

To recruit students for these ‘levelling-up’ programmes we use our ‘Talent Hack’ alternative recruitment style as a vehicle to showcase students’ skills.

These hackathon style events are designed to allow students to shine and create dynamic connections with industry partners. Our most recent events with WPP, Coca Cola and Siemens resulted in 20 paid internships with companies that our students had struggled to access.


Two years on, we are proud to be working with 16 Diversity of Thought partners. We also won Best University and Employer Engagement Strategy Award for the programme at this year’s ISE Awards.

Our ambition is to develop a consortium of partners, collectively progressing and sharing best practice around attracting, recruiting and retaining diverse talent. We hope to inspire a sector wide step change within early talent recruitment.

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