Minority students benefit from confidence-building measures

With a focus on raising students’ expectations, Kingston University aims to close the BME attainment gap

June 4, 2015
Veiled female student at graduation ceremony in Palestine
Source: Reuters
Deeper look: Kingston staff are determined to address the complex causes of BME underachievement at degree level

With just over half its students coming from ethnic minorities, Kingston University is proud to be one of the UK’s most multicultural universities.

But the southwest London institution is less pleased with the results achieved by its black and minority ethnic students; as in many other universities, they are far less likely to emerge with a first or upper-second class honours degree than their white classmates.

Only about 45 per cent of its black students and 50 per cent of Asian undergraduates gained at least a 2:1 compared with about 75 per cent of white students, according to the university’s 2013-14 access agreement.

With many employers nowadays looking for a minimum of a 2:1 when selecting applicants for interview, that attainment gap has major implications for a large proportion of Kingston’s student body.

Despite significant work over the past three years, Kingston has now redoubled its efforts on this front.

In March, the university’s governors said that the reduction of the BME attainment gap would become a key institutional performance indicator. They also approved a new achievement plan to improve student outcomes, which includes targeting subjects where the attainment gap is greatest.

Such action may seem simply like common sense, given the immediacy of the problem and its lasting impact on graduates entering a tough labour market. But, according to campaigners, universities have been loath to tackle the issue of the BME attainment gap – which sector-wide is only marginally better than that seen at Kingston.

Institutions, campaigners claim, have instead sought to “explain away” the gap by attributing it to socio-economic, gender and subject factors, as well as family circumstances, that militate against ethnic minority achievement.

“You cannot simply ignore the problem just because it is a very complex one,” said Lesley-Jane Eales-Reynolds, Kingston’s deputy vice-chancellor (education), who is leading the BME attainment initiative.

Academic research has highlighted, among other things, supposedly white-centred curricula, the way assessment is designed and students’ caring commitments as reasons for the under-performance of black and Asian students, Professor Eales-Reynolds explained.

But Kingston is keen to focus primarily on raising black students’ expectations, she said.

“These students often have the skills but not the personal confidence to apply them properly,” Professor Eales-Reynolds continued.

Expanding Kingston’s Student Associate Scheme, in which undergraduates spend time working in schools as mentors or teachers, will help many undergraduates to build confidence, and also improve their critical thinking and communication skills, she said.

“If you have to read something and explain it to someone else, you have to distil that text and then communicate it in an accessible way,” she added.

Kingston will also expand its student leadership programme, which has managed to increase the numbers of students in course representative, community activist and students’ union positions, with shared roles sometimes now used to boost the numbers who can get involved.

Those BME students who took part in the scheme are significantly more likely to gain greater self-confidence and to excel in their studies, despite the added workload, evidence suggests.

“I believe there is also an issue on how students understand and interpret assessment criteria,” said Professor Eales-Reynolds.

“Students might have the knowledge, but they need to know how to apply it in the right way,” she continued, arguing that lecturers might deliver more “exam theory” so that students know how to meet the learning outcomes required for a 2:1.

However, could white students at Kingston – who made up 48 per cent of the study body in 2013-14 – lose out as the university targets underachievement by BME students?

Absolutely not, insisted Professor Eales-Reynolds, who said that all students will be able to gain from the improved learning opportunities provided by Kingston. “We are trying to move [students] at the lowest position to a better position, but everyone will be supported and have chances to develop,” she added.

“BME students have further to move up the attainment ladder than non-BME students, but everyone will be encouraged and supported to climb that ladder.”

jack.grove@tesglobal.com


In numbers

52% of students at the institution are from an ethnic minority group


Campus news

Newcastle University
Medical students have turned to art to get a better understanding of how the human body is put together. Twenty students at Newcastle University have produced more than 50 artworks for an exhibition, called Artatomy, which opens on 5 June at the city’s Life Science Centre. The project invited them to employ visual arts methods as a way of helping them to look critically and reflect during anatomy lessons.

Manchester Metropolitan University
Student volunteers organised a national football event for homeless people. The Street 2 Feet project – the only one of its kind in the country – was organised by Manchester Metropolitan University students Teodora Busurca, Katey Pouch, Tom Hounsome and Harsh Chauhan, who wrote funding bids and carried out promotion and marketing. The Manchester event was run in partnership with Chapter 1, a charity that helps vulnerable people, and StreetGames, the sports charity.

University of Manchester
An academic has discovered that one of his ancestors was the father of an illegitimate baby mentioned in the diary of Samuel Pepys. Research by Peter Tyldesley, a lecturer in insurance law and financial regulation at the University of Manchester, revealed that the child was the result of an affair between one of the ladies-in-waiting of Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, and courtier Edward Tyldesley — who was already married and was ordered to pay the mother £1,500 in compensation.

Southampton Solent University
Former professional footballers will offer insights on equality and diversity in the football industry on a new university course. The Equality and Diversity Awareness in Football course, run by Southampton Solent University and Kick It, the sport’s equality and inclusion organisation, is designed to develop and educate the future leaders of football. The six-unit course is aimed at those who work or want to work in the football industry.

University of York
Environmental researchers have urged the international community to grasp the potential of seagrass to help the battle against global warming. In a paper published in Frontiers in Marine Science, researchers from the University of York’s environment department argue that meadows of the marine flowering plant are a global sink for carbon, but are in rapid decline because of human activity and are virtually ignored in global carbon budgets. The authors call this “a serious oversight and a major missed opportunity”.

University of Oxford
An antimalarial drug developed in 1950 could be effective as a treatment for heart failure. Researchers at the University of Oxford made a chance observation that hydroxychloroquine, originally created to combat malaria and later found to be useful in treating lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, slowed the heart rate of a patient being treated for lupus. Scientists first noted the effects of the drug on heart rate in the late 1950s but never followed up the discovery. Now academics, led by Rebecca Burton, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford, have carried out preclinical studies, the results of which are published in the journal HeartRhythm.

University of East London
A university has won an award for promoting ethnic diversity in its workforce. The University of East London triumphed in the community category at the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, held at the London Hilton on Park Lane on 19 May. UEL beat Deloitte, the financial consultancy firm, global energy company Shell and disability rights charity Include Me TOO to win in the category. The awards were founded in 1999 by Pinky Lilani, a businesswoman, to celebrate the often unsung Asian heroines of British life.

St George’s, University of London
A Cyprus medical school co-founded by a University of London college has graduated its first doctors. Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus’ president, was the guest of honour at the University of Nicosia Medical School’s first degree ceremony on 15 May, which saw newly qualified doctors receive an award from St George’s, University of London. The institution partnered with Nicosia in 2010 to launch a graduate-entry, four-year medical degree, which has now trained the first doctors to qualify in Cyprus in the modern era. Both universities have signed a long-term agreement to renew and extend their partnership.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

POSTSCRIPT:

Article originally published as: Let students lead the way and confidence will follow (4 June 2015)

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Administrative Assistant UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Dental Clinical Skills Assistant UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Education Liaison Lead UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest