Black students may be achieving lower degree marks than their white peers because they feel less able to approach their lecturers with problems, a study has claimed.
Jacqueline Stevenson, reader in widening participation at Leeds Metropolitan University, believes her research may explain the persistent academic attainment gap between black and ethnic minority (BME) students and their white counterparts.
Statistics released by the Equality Challenge Unit in November showed that 69.5 per cent of UK-domiciled white students achieved a first or a 2:1 in 2010-11, against 51.1 per cent of the cohort of black and minority ethnic students and just 40.3 per cent of black students.
Based on interviews with 75 students of different ethnicities at two research-intensive universities, Dr Stevenson said she saw a distinct difference in white and black students’ interaction with lecturers.
“Black students were very reluctant to consult lecturers,” Dr Stevenson told last month’s Society for Research into Higher Education conference, held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales.
“There was a sense (among the students) that they were self-reliant and had to sort things out themselves…Having had experience of being rebuffed [by people in authority], this was reflected in the way they did not approach lecturers for help.”
She said black students developed their own support networks, such as online communities. Although white students also looked for support in these ways, it was in addition to calling on their lecturers.
“White students were much more strategic in accessing every form of support available. They did not feel they would face any form of hostility if they complained about their course or their marks. When they were not happy about something, they made it clear. [This difference] may be why BME students are not achieving the results they should.”
Black students were also less confident in their academic abilities than white students, Dr Stevenson added.
“They seemed to have internalised lots of negative racial stereotypes, particularly black male students who often said they did not feel good enough,” she said.
Black students tended to blame themselves if they did not understand something, whereas other ethnic groups would simply put further questions to lecturers to ensure they understood, she added.
“White students were very rarely self-critical about their academic skills and abilities. They had internalised the notion they were entitled to be in higher education,” she said.
Dr Stevenson said universities needed to be more proactive in ensuring that black students accessed the academic support on offer.