Over 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. In September, Advance HE published the data for 2016-17, which revealed:
- 75.1% of Chinese students were awarded a good honours degree (a degree attainment gap of 4.5 pp)
- 68.7% of Asian students (a gap of 10.9 pp)
- 55.5% of black students (a gap of 24.1 pp)
It is vital that we explore intersectionality as we seek to address these gaps. For example, 52.8% of black male students gained a good honours degree in 2016-17 (a gap of 24.8 pp from white male students) while 28.6% of white students gained a first class degree compared to 12.3% of black students (a gap of 16.3 pp). Students’ chosen subject also affects their chances of attaining a good honours degree. In 2016-17, the BME attainment gap was 11.3% in science, engineering and technology (SET) subjects and 15.4% in non-SET subjects.
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.
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. See this video from Luis de Gama in Fashion, in which he reflects upon his African heritage and the fashion 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