Research by the University of Manchester’s Centre on Dynamics and Ethnicity (CoDE) shows the number of people from ethnic minorities gaining a degree-level qualification has risen sharply over the past decade.
According to the 2011 census, 43 per cent of those with Chinese heritage had a degree, while the figure stood at 42 per cent for those of Indian ethnicity and 40 per cent for those from black African groups, which had a large number of international students.
In contrast, a quarter of white Britons had a degree qualification, according to the study, titled How are ethnic inequalities in education changing?, published on 10 March and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The improved educational attainment was mostly down to wider access to higher education, particularly among women, said Kitty Lymperopoulou, who led the study.
Previous government policies aimed at raising the attainment of ethnic minority pupils in schools are also likely to have contributed to some of the improvement, as did immigration policies aiming to attract international students and high-skilled migrants, she added.
“Over the last 20 years, educational attainment has been increasing among ethnic groups as a result of an improvement in access to education overseas and the increasing proportion of ethnic minority people educated in Britain,” she said.
The study found the proportion of those from Indian and Pakistani groups gaining degree-level qualifications rose by and 18 percentage points respectively between 1991 and 2011.
However, Ms Lymperopoulou said some ethnic minorities were not achieving so highly.
“Whilst younger members of the Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups are achieving higher levels of attainment, members of these groups were also more likely to have no qualifications than white British people,” she said.
“This partly reflects the lower rates of participation in education among Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, but also other factors including poverty and discrimination.”
Ethnic minority groups also experienced inequalities in education and the labour market, she added.