SOAS University of London

SOAS Director to help lead initiative to tackle BME attainment gap

6 June 2018

A major new initiative to help universities tackle the BME attainment gap led by Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS University of London, and Amatey Doku, Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students (NUS) was announced today.

The joint initiative, launched by Universities UK (UUK) and the NUS is a major drive to improve the performance and university experience of black and minority ethnic (BME) students across the UK.

SOAS Director Valerie Amos

Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS, said: “This is a pressing problem. Too many students from BME backgrounds who get into university have a challenging experience. Many drop out and all the evidence points to an attainment gap.  We need to understand the barriers to BME student success so we can eliminate these gaps.

“We are asking students and staff to tell us about their experiences and what has worked and not worked. We need to identify any gaps in our understanding and practice so that we can improve the performance and university experience of black and minority ethnic students.

“We must ensure that students from all backgrounds can succeed.”

Amatey Doku, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), said:

“Attainment for black students at higher education institutions continues to be an area where there is racial inequality, with non-white students overall less likely to receive higher classifications for their degrees. The gap starkly demonstrates that universities are complicit in the perpetuation of structural inequalities.

“NUS has been instrumental in pushing for change and I’m delighted that finally we will begin to see real action. The findings of the audit will be invaluable when informing the recommendations later this year, with institutions and student representatives able to address the issue more systematically and collaboratively. The time for action is now and the call for evidence today is a step in the right direction, towards eradicating the gap that exists between white and non-white graduates and ensuring institutions take race equality seriously.”

There was an almost 50% increase in the number of BME undergraduates in England between 2007 and 2016. There is, however, disparity in the attainment of students from BME backgrounds once they get to university. While 78% of white students who graduated last year ended up qualifying with a first or a 2:1, 66% of Asian students achieved the same, and just 53% of black students.

Data also shows that qualifications before attending university, although a key factor in degree outcomes, do not explain the differences between ethnic groups.

In many universities, university leaders, staff and students have been working together on initiatives to address the issue for some time, but progress has been inconsistent across the sector.

UUK and NUS have launched a nationwide call for evidence from university staff, students and their representatives to identify best practice so that universities can close these gaps in attainment.  A series of evidence gathering sessions and online survey data from students and staff will inform the recommendations which will be made later this year.

This work aims to:

  • Increase understanding of the barriers to BME student success
  • Identify initiatives that have been successful in addressing this
  • Share experiences and best practice of what works in narrowing the BME attainment gap

The outcome of the work will be published in December to help inform policy and decision making within universities, as well as government officials and parliamentarians.

Further information can be found here on the UUK website.