Topic briefing: BME students
1. How are you collecting evidence of possible differences in access, student success, and progression of BME students, particularly any attainment gaps between BME and white students?
How are you strategically considering evidence across the whole institution to make progress in this area?
How do you disaggregate your disadvantaged BME students to ensure activities are effectively targeted?
2. How could you better listen to and engage with your BME students, so that you can provide effective support and address any barriers facing them?
3. What systems do you have in place to robustly evaluate the impact of your work with groups of BME students, particularly in targeting the gap in attainment?
How will you disseminate your research findings to help inform effective practice across the sector?
Have you considered how you could share and disseminate the findings from smaller-scale activities and projects using sector networks such as the Higher Education Race Action Group (HERAG)?
4. How do staff members at your institution work flexibly and collaboratively with others at all levels across the institution to support BME students?
5. How do you work with external partners to build a shared infrastructure to support BME students?
What systems do you have in place to monitor and evaluate collaborative activity to ensure that your collective resources are having an impact on outcomes for BME students?
6. What systems do you have in place to develop and test new, impactful approaches to target students of different ethnicities in your unique institutional context?
About this briefing
This briefing gives an overview of current challenges around access, success and progression for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students and explains how universities and colleges are working to support BME students through their access agreements. We consider how institutions are working to support BME students across the whole student lifecycle, and we place particular emphasis on the differences in degree attainment between some BME students and white students. This briefing also suggests questions that institutions might wish to consider when further developing this work in future.
Many institutions and organisations do other work to support BME students that is not reported in access agreements, so this briefing is not an exhaustive picture of work to support them across English higher education.
We hope this briefing will stimulate thinking and discussion about how BME students could be supported more effectively by universities and colleges, leading to more evidence-led approaches tailored to institutions’ own context and circumstances.
What do we know about BME students?
The latest analysis of entry rates by UCAS shows that there are significant differences in higher education entry rates between ethnic groups. Research shows there is disparity in the type of institutions BME students attend and in the subjects they study compared with white students.
There are significant variations in the experiences of higher education between BME and white students. Retention rates are lower for all ethnic groups (apart from students of Chinese ethnicity) than their white peers. There are also disparities in the progression of different ethnic groups from undergraduate study to both employment and further study.
How are degree outcomes for BME students different from outcomes for white students?
There are stark differences between ethnic groups in terms of whether students receive a degree, and the degree class they achieve. These gaps persist even when controlling for other factors which may affect attainment, such as the student’s age and qualifications on entry. This suggests that disadvantage continues into and beyond higher education. Since the differences in outcomes cannot be explained by common factors that influence students, this suggests there may be issues, for example course or institutional structures and curriculum, which explain the underperformance of BME students.
The Equality Challenge Unit’s (ECU’s) Equality in higher education: statistical report 2014 highlights the significant gap in degree attainment between ethnic groups in England. 73.8 per cent of white UK-domiciled qualifiers receive a first or upper second class honours degree, compared with 57 per cent of BME UK-domiciled qualifiers and only 46.8 per cent of Black UK-domiciled qualifiers (see chart below). Attainment of Black students (defined by the ECU as “black or black British: Caribbean, black or black British: African and other black background”) is significantly below what we would expect to see from their sector-adjusted benchmark. This suggests that this group faces specific barriers to success.
HEFCE’s Higher education and beyond: Outcomes from full-time first degree study report provides the most recent detailed analysis of a range of outcomes for different groups of students. The report shows that:
- outcomes for Black UK-domiciled students who entered higher education in 2006-07 are significantly below the sector-adjusted average (which takes into account other factors which may have an impact on outcomes).
- Chinese and Indian UK-domiciled students performed above the sector-adjusted average for achieving a degree but under the benchmark for achieving a first or upper-second class degree.
Figure 1: Percentage point difference of the outcome from the sector-adjusted average split by ethnicity.
Note: There is no difference from the benchmark for white students in terms of being degree-qualified. Where a bar is filled in the graph, this indicates that the difference is not statistically significant.
Why it’s important to address differential outcomes
Under the public sector equality duty, which came into force in April 2011, institutions are required to have due regard for the need to advance equality of opportunity between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
It is therefore important – both for institutions and for OFFA – to consider the reasons behind the attainment gap and to investigate what practices, activities and programmes influence BME students’ attainment.
The national strategy for access and student success outlines the need to address the persistent gap in attainment rates for students from different ethnic minority groups. It highlights the work of the HE Academy and the ECU in gathering evidence about how the content and delivery of a curriculum can affect BME student retention and success, and the implications of this for policy, practice and further research. This work has not found a single, universal approach to closing the attainment gap. However, it does offer a set of guiding principles that institutions may find helpful.
OFFA’s guidance on addressing the BME attainment gap
In their access agreements, many institutions describe an aim to increase BME attainment in generic terms but often do not specify the programmes and activities they have in place to achieve this. Where institutions mention pilot projects designed to improve BME attainment, the outcomes of these are often not followed up in subsequent access agreements or monitoring returns. We therefore encourage institutions to tell us more about these activities, and how they develop and evaluate them, in order to help us track progress and highlight good practice.
We would like institutions to identify whether they have an attainment gap between particular groups of students. For those who have identified a gap in BME attainment, we would expect to see them working towards closing the gap, for example by:
- using value added measures to explore the achievement of BME students on the basis of their entry qualifications and subject of study
- understanding the BME student experience in order to help activities to be effectively targeted
- working collaboratively with BME students to develop engaging and accessible course content and pedagogy.
We continue to encourage institutions to disaggregate between different ethnic groups rather than treating BME students as one homogenous group. When assessing the attainment of BME students, institutions should consider other variables that may affect these students – for example whether they come from a low participation neighbourhood or from a low income family. Analysis of the intersection between different protected characteristics will help institutions target activity effectively to close the attainment gap.
What do institutions report doing to support BME students across the whole student lifecycle in their access agreements?
- Twelve per cent of institutions have mentioned targeting BME students with activities which seek to raise awareness around higher education in their access agreements.
- Around 10 per cent of institutions tell us about offering taster sessions to BME students to raise awareness and aspirations. For example, City University London works in partnership with Generating Genius to run taster events in STEM subjects for high achieving black boys.
- Few institutions talk about providing information, advice and guidance which specifically targets BME students in their access agreements. Liverpool John Moore’s University’s Equality and Diversity team works with the Student Recruitment & Widening Access team to provide targeted IAG to specific community centres in local BME communities.
- Around 8 per cent of institutions report on the provision of long-term outreach activities, working with children at primary schools. The Royal Academy of Music runs the First Strings Experience, a three-year preliminary music course for students aged 4-7. The Academy allocates 10 free places per year specifically for Black and Minority Ethnic children from the boroughs of Newham and Hackney.
- Other access activities targeting BME students mentioned by institutions include institutional visits to schools, school mentoring and ambassador schemes, subject-specific taster sessions, parental awareness raising and short-term outreach activities targeting those aged 16 and above.
- Around 90 per cent of institutions mention BME students in their 2015-16 access agreements, but less than half of institutions (approximately 42 per cent) discuss attainment of BME students and the difference in attainment between BME and white students.
- Only a very small proportion of institutions currently explain how they disaggregate between different ethnicities in their access agreements. De Montfort University’s analysis of the recruitment, achievement and future employability of its BME student population showed that there is an attainment gap between students from Indian backgrounds and white UK students. This gap is even more marked for other ethnic groups such as students of Pakistani and Bangladeshi or Afro-Caribbean origin. To help address the gap, the University set up a Retention and Achievement of Ethnic Minority Students (RAEMS) group to establish close links with groups of students from different ethnic backgrounds such as the African Caribbean Society and the Islamic Society. Feedback from these students has led to plans for a ‘Centre of Excellence Hub’ for Culturally Responsive Learning and Teaching to reduce the attainment, retention and employability gap of BME students.
- Looking across the student lifecycle, there are differences in the support offered by institutions. For example, King’s College London has undertaken a collaborative project between the Vice-Principal (Education), the College’s Equality and Diversity team and the Student Union to investigate the BME attainment gap. Qualitative and survey-based research has been undertaken among BME students in order to identify factors contributing to the attainment gap, and to find useful measures of support for students.
- Around 15 per cent of institutions talk about progression activities for students from BME backgrounds in their access agreements.
- The most frequently mentioned progression activity (by 9 per cent of institutions) for BME students is the offer of placements, work experience and internships.
- Five per cent of institutions mention activities designed to raise the employability skills of BME students. Staffordshire University Careers Centre is working with Staffordshire County Council to offer 12 week placements (with the support of workplace mentors) to BME students to support them into employment.
- Only 3 per cent of institutions report in their access agreement how they encourage BME students into postgraduate study. The University of Bristol is working with schools to increase the number of BME students undertaking a Postgraduate Certificate in Education by encouraging BME students to participate in school-based mentoring and tutoring in communities with high BME populations.
- Three per cent of institutions report offering career development advice and guidance to students from BME backgrounds. For example, the University of Brighton runs a Careers Services’ Momentum Mentoring Scheme to target BME students and increase their post-graduation employment levels.
At a sector level, under the old system of fees and student support, OFFA’s research found no evidence of a link between bursaries and either students’ choices of university of rates of retention. However, some institutions say that the receipt of financial support does have a positive impact on access and student success. Of these institutions, some target specific groups including BME students.
- Less than 10 per cent of institutions tell us that they offer financial support specifically targeted towards students from BME backgrounds. Liverpool John Moores University works with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Anthony Walker Foundation to offer a £500 per year cash bursary and a £1,000 fee waiver to two BME students who study law or law and criminal justice at the University.
- Of the institutions offering financial support for BME students, very few disaggregate between students from different backgrounds. One example is University College London’s Amos Bursary, which seeks to help British-born and state school-educated Black African and Caribbean boys to access and thrive in higher education.
- Despite half of institutions setting general targets on race and ethnicity in their 2015-16 access agreements, very few (2 per cent) disaggregate ethnicity beyond the broad category of BME to target specific ethnic groups or sub-groups. Leeds Beckett University includes a target to work with male students from white working class backgrounds, males from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds and females from Bangladeshi backgrounds. The University’s three day UJIMA programme uses student ambassador role models to inspire and motivate young black males.
- Less than a quarter of institutions include specific targets for BME students and of these, only around 16 per cent have targets which focus solely on increasing the attainment of BME students. Less than 5 per cent of institutions have targets which focus specifically on decreasing the attainment gap between white and BME students. For example, the University of Central Lancashire has set up a university-wide working group to help meet its target to reduce the gap between the proportions of BME and white students gaining a first or upper second class honours degree.