The National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities UK (UUK) has called on universities to close the attainment gap in degrees between white and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students by creating better dialogue around race and improving university culture.
The #ClosingTheGap report found that while BAME student enrolment had increased by 50 percent in the ten years between 2007 and 2017, there was still a disparity between white and BAME students getting “top grades” of 2:1 or higher.
81 percent of white students achieved a first or an upper-second-class degree in 2017, compared to 71 percent of Asian students and 58 percent of black students.
There was little to no data explaining the gap as qualifications achieved before university, which is usually key to understanding degree results, did not indicate a reason for the disparity.
Improving Grade Disparity
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The report’s findings are based on six roundtable evidence sessions involving 160 attendees, as well as online calls for evidence with over 100 respondents and research from 99 universities and student unions. It came to five recommendations which will help universities close the gap.
Primarily, the NUS and UUK said that there needed to be a shift in the rhetoric around race on campus, as well as a change of culture and an assurance to BAME students that race “will be dealt with as part of wider, strategic, organisational practice. Not as an ‘add on’.”
Part of this would be to create a racially diverse and inclusive environment at universities to create a sense of belonging for BAME students.
From decolonising the curriculum to more culturally competent support services, many students and students’ unions have been fighting and campaigning for action in this area for years.
Amatey Doku, NUS Vice President
“Institutions need an understanding of how a poor sense of belonging might be contributing to low levels of engagement, including with curriculums, and progression to postgraduate study,” the report explained.
The report also called for strong leadership which is dedicated to closing the gap, as well as better data collection to help understand why the gap exists. This data then needs to be shared amongst universities, the report said, in order to pinpoint what methods work.
NUS Vice President Amatey Doku explained that students and students’ unions had undoubtedly worked towards improving grade disparity, but the report will allow senior leaders to also take “proactive steps”.
“From decolonising the curriculum to more culturally competent support services, many students and students’ unions have been fighting and campaigning for action in this area for years and this report highlights good practice, and clear practical steps for universities to take to begin to respond to many of the concerns raised,” Doku said.
Ending The BAME Attainment Gap
Baroness Valerie Amos, the Director of SOAS university who led the #ClosingtheGap project, explained that universities are more racially and culturally diverse compared to other sectors, but steps needed to be taken to keep on improving.
“We are failing a generation of students if we don’t act now to reduce the BAME attainment gap,” Amos explained.
Inaction is not an option. Universities should be places where opportunity and aspiration come together.
Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS
“It is important that universities act and are transparent in their approach so black, Asian and minority ethnic students are given the best chance of success. Inaction is not an option. Universities should be places where opportunity and aspiration come together.”
Higher education regulator, the Office for Students, has said that universities must urgently act on the report and has set a target for degree gaps to be closed by 2024.