Addressing the attainment gap at UCA

Students in the libraryOver the last few decades, the widening participation policies of successive UK governments have led to higher participation rates among 18 to 21 year old black and minority ethnic (BME) students (Sanders and Rose-Adams, 2014).  At the same time, the difference in degree attainment remains at just over a 15% gap between BME students and non-BME students in terms of achieving a 2:1 or 1st degree outcome. The University measures ‘attainment’ as the percentage of students gaining 1st and 2:1 degrees. Attainment is also measured by the employment opportunities and salaries of graduates from data collected by the Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Survey (now the Graduate Outcomes Survey) and Longitudinal Employment Outcomes (using HMRC data). These figures show that Higher Education currently reproduces racial inequalities. As a result, action is being taken to address this across the sector.

There are likely to be multiple causal factors for the attainment gap.  This has led many universities to shift their focus from a deficit approach focused exclusively on addressing the academic preparedness of individual students, to more nuanced whole-institution strategies that acknowledge the wider impact on student outcomes of pedagogic practices, cultures of belonging, student academic support and staff capabilities.  The challenge of connecting whole-institution policy to local practice in meaningful ways is a fundamental challenge for institutions seeking to address differential attainment.  The BAME attainment gap at UCA is 12% in 17/18 (similar to the average for the sector) meaning 12% fewer 1st and 2:1s are received by BAME students when compared with the student body as whole. This is consistent with previous years. There is also a 6% gap between the number of white students and the number of BAME students in the category of ‘highly skilled employment’ (as measured by the Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education Survey.

At UCA, we have adopted a connected learning strategy for addressing the attainment gap, which is informed by an educational ethos that values diversity as a fundamental principle within creative communities and as an integral feature of a modern university.  Guided by advice from Dr Duna Sabri, who has researched the causal mechanisms that underlie statistical differences in students’ attainment outcomes, we have devised a set of actions and commitments to address the equality gap on UCA courses. The BAME Attainment Manifesto is developed from research findings at UCA and the HE sector, and commits our academic community to narrow the equality gap by reflecting on the following:

Frequent and meaningful conversations with tutors is the key contributing factor in BAME student success.

Ensure all your students are experiencing consistently good conversations about their work. Unconscious bias may mean that BAME students are not receiving equal entitlement for support.

Focus on mechanisms to improve student self-efficacy. If your BAME students believe in themselves, they are more likely to succeed.

Formative assessment has gap-narrowing effects – lower performing students gain the most.

Help all your students to develop an assessment literacy, so that they understand the assessment and feedback journey on their course.

Build in self and peer assessment opportunities for all your students.

Actively maintain students’ intrinsic interests and ensure there is sufficient common ground between tutor and student to enable productive feedback.

Interrogating course and unit level data can help you identify priority areas for interventions.

Change the balance of images, texts, authors, places in course delivery and course documents to ensure BAME representation.

Change reading lists to include a more diverse range of influences, perspectives and critique

Develop students’ critical thinking and awareness of different perspectives on issues relating to diversity in ethnicity, culture and nationality

Aim to deliver content that is interactive and designed to enable students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum.

We are all ethnically and institutionally positioned – collaboration with students and colleagues can help us to address this in our work.

Challenge your own discomfort with certain BAME-sensitive topics. Make the uncomfortable, comfortable, by reflecting on areas of challenge in your teaching.

Appoint a member of your team to lead on inclusive pedagogies and curricula.

Build-in more opportunities for student co-creation in teaching.

Embed academic skills, research and communication provision in the curriculum for all students

Curricula tend to accord with the social and cultural backgrounds of academics – addressing the balance of ethnic backgrounds and expertise in your course team and course content and materials can help narrow the attainment gap .

Actively address the ethnic diversity of your course team to foster a more inclusive curriculum and a more representative staff community.

Actively ensure that the industry practitioners and sessional lectures you seek out for Open Lectures and teaching opportunities reflect the diverse community in which we live and are representative of our student cohort. Use these opportunities to grow your BAME academic community.

Build in opportunities for your first year students to meet BAME 2nd and 3rd years


Posted in BME, Co-creation, Educational enhancement, Inclusivity, Student Centred Learning, Student satisfaction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Creative Arts Technicians in Academia – Tim Savage


Webinar recording: Creative arts technicians in academic: to transition or not to transition?


How do technicians feel after moving into an academic role? UCA’s Tim Savage conducted research into the experiences of UCA technicians who have become academic staff, and his study was recently published in the Journal of Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education.

Tim’s research investigated whether the factors that have elevated the status of technicians have also eroded traditional academic roles, and whether this enables individuals to transition between what many experience as disparate camps. In this webinar, Tim will be talking about what he found out during the research, and will be discussing the relationship between technical and academic staff in higher education.


Posted in Art & Design Education, Creative Education, Podcasts, technical education, Webinars | Leave a comment

Co-creation as a tool for course enhancement?

co-creation.pngI have been hearing a lot about the benefits of co-creation as a collaborative approach to including students as partners in pedagogical planning processes.

But just how do we go about shifting perspectives of students as stakeholders to students as co-creators?  Perhaps before we explore this, we should define what we mean by co-creation, what its value might be to staff and students and how we might use it as a curriculum enhancement tool.

What is co-creation?

Co-creation is the development of student-led, collaborative initiatives leading to co-created outputs. The outputs may be part of the curriculum (unit assessment driven for example) or co-curricular (related to the programme but not to a particular unit assessment/expectation). Co-creation can be applied to many areas of HE, in particular in curriculum development and research where students work in partnership with academics to improve the student experience.

Pedagogic perspective

Working on co-created initiatives enables active, experiential and problem-based learning, and facilitates student engagement. This helps students to develop new skills and confidence, learn how to apply knowledge, and has the potential to guide their career decisions and increase employability.

What is its value?

Co-creation has the potential to significantly impact upon institutional culture and enhance the student learning experience by creating a sense of a learning community. This is particularly likely where students are involved in curricular development and research, and work collaboratively with academics. At the same time, staff can gain much inspiration from the new, creative ideas of students and some co-creation projects have the potential to open up opportunities to work in partnership with external agencies and promote the reputation of the University for the Creative Arts to the wider community.

How might we use co-creation on UCA courses?

The Graphic Design courses at Epsom and Farnham piloted ‘co-creation’ as a tool for upcoming course periodic review.  The course teams felt that Co-creation would provide an opportunity to progress student inclusivity and development of robust practices for both creation and enhancement of their courses.  To this end, the course teams hosted an event, inviting academic colleagues, industry professionals, alumni, current students, external examiners and representatives from the Quality Assurance department to explore ideology and pedagogical enhancement.

The event was broken down into three parts:

  • introduction presentations from Course Leaders on course ideology and proposed changes, noting uniqueness of each course within the school portfolio.
  • part two explored ideology, career destination, relevance and added value of degree learning through small group discussion, groups clustered by whether the delegate was student, professional or academic etc.
  • part three explored the proposed course content in small mixed groups.

This event took place four months prior to the periodic review of these graphic design courses; however, as below, to best utilise the practice, it should begin at the start of either course creation or initial considerations of substantial course changes or review process.

The event took approximately six weeks to organise, dedicating a few hours per week. Workplace was predominantly used to collaborate on status and organisation. This time was devoted to: online, telephone and Skype planning; contacting stakeholders; creating an appropriate guest list; location scouting and organising catering for the event; devising the events activities; and promoting the event.

Students and alumni were invited to contribute from their unique experiences of their course within the school portfolio. The project was interested in finding out their views and understanding of the portfolio, their choices, their aspirations, whether the courses meet their aspirations, and if their expectations are compatible with the expectations of academics and industry professionals.

For a full report of the experience of using co-creation on the Graphic Design courses see Graphic Design Co-creation Event Notes

Links, resources and further information

Tools that support co-creation activities

  • Student Voice using Padlet Boards
  • Web seminars, webcasts and peer-level interactive learning using Collaborate
  • Audience response systems eg Mentimeter, Poll Anywhere
  • Peer learning and self assessment 




Posted in Active learning, Co-creation, Educational enhancement, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

NSS Student Success stories

Music journalism students Epsom

The Creative Education team have been talking to UCA courses with 90% or above in the National Student Survey.  The idea of the conversations has been to explore some of the creative pedagogies used to keep students satisfied with their course experiences.

We capture the first of these here, with an interview with Mark O’Connor, Course Leader for Music Journalism.

What approaches to learning, teaching and student engagement did you take last year?

We monitor everything unit by unit and always close the feedback loop at Course Boards.  This helps us to improve practice year on year.  Students are encouraged to feed back on the experience of doing the unit through a Unit Evaluation Form.  These are then gathered up by our Course Administrator in Campus Registry.  She minutes them and puts them into an action plan to form negative and positive feedback.

What do you think was distinctive about your approaches last year? How do you think this might have helped with NSS scores? Continue reading

Posted in Art & Design Education, Creative Education, NSS, Student satisfaction, Student Success | Leave a comment

Nicholas’ teaching tips #4 and #5


A double helping of teaching tips this week from Dr. H – here they are:

If a learner has an unfamiliar ‘non-UK’ name, it is important to pronounce it as well as possible (rather than mess it up, or avoid using it). It is fine to ask for guidance from the student while you learn an unfamiliar name.

When giving feedback, have a checklist of things you will feedback on. (This might be informed by the assessment rubrics.) In this way, you make sure that all students receive parity of feedback on all the important points.

Posted in Art & Design Education, feedback, teaching tips | Leave a comment

Nicholas’ teaching tip #3


It’s time for Nicholas Houghton’s teaching tip of the week. This week’s tips is:

Learn all students’ names as soon as possible. You’ll find you can do it; we all can. By using their name every time you address them, you not only help them to feel valued, you help yourself to learn their name. The first session you might consider giving them post-its to wear with their names on, so you don’t have to keep asking their name.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash
Posted in First Year Experience, Inclusivity, Student Centred Learning, teaching tips | Leave a comment

Creative Education professional development opportunities at UCA 2018-19

Grad hats in air copy

To support the university ambitions to develop excellent teaching, the Creative Education team have worked with key stakeholders across the university re-accredit our provision with the Higher Education Academy (part of Advance HE).  We have now developed an overarching framework of taught and experiential CPD learning and teaching, mapped against the UK Professional Standards Framework.  The Creative Education Professional Development Framework offers both taught and experiential routes to teaching qualification and/or professional recognition (see Visual on attached which articulates this) designed to fit around busy teaching schedules, as follows:

  • The new Postgraduate Certificate in Creative Education offers a 60-credit taught route to achieving HEA professional recognition aimed at newer teaching staff.
  • The Creative Education CPD scheme (UKPSF Descriptor 1-3) provides a self-directed route to achieving HEA professional recognition for experienced teaching staff.
  • Both routes provide an online, collaborative experience with face to face campus support, provided by a dedicated teaching team and/or network of campus based Creative Education Mentors.
  • Rather than produce a written account of professional practice, all participants are now required to ‘present their claim’ for recognition based on the evidence they have from reflecting on their teaching/supporting learning practice through the UKPSF (eg teaching observations and reflective commentaries)

If any teaching staff are interested in doing either a teacher qualification and/or making a claim for HEA Fellowship, please see the Creative Education Professional Development Framework.  If you require any further information please email the CEN team on


Posted in Creative Education, HEA Fellowship, Professional Development | Leave a comment