Ethnic minority students less satisfied with university experience

BME learners rate teaching less positively and may lose out by living at home, Hepi-HEA survey finds

June 9, 2016
A group of students
Source: Alamy

Students from ethnic minorities are significantly less likely to be satisfied with their university experience, a major survey shows.

The annual student academic experience survey conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute and the Higher Education Academy found that only 16 per cent UK-domiciled respondents of Chinese ethnicity, and 17 per cent of undergraduates from another Asian background, were very satisfied with their time at university.

This was well below the average score of 27 per cent among all those surveyed. Home students of black ethnicity and undergraduates from outside the European Union were also less likely to be very satisfied, with scores of 21 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively.

Non-white students were already known to be significantly less likely to get a good degree, as highlighted by separate research, with only 60 per cent of black and ethnic minority learners leaving English universities with a first or 2:1 in 2013-14, compared with 76 per cent of white undergraduates.

The Hepi-HEA study found that perceptions of teaching quality were a key determinant of overall satisfaction, and students from Asian and Chinese backgrounds consistently gave lower scores than their white counterparts in this area.

This may result in disaffection, with 45 per cent of black students and 44 per cent of Asian and Chinese students saying that their expectations had not been met because they did not put in enough effort themselves. Only 35 per cent of white students gave this response.

Winston Morgan, reader in toxicology and clinical biochemistry at the University of East London, said that the positive depictions of ethnic minority students in university marketing materials “only reflect the experiences of a very limited number of very unique students”.

“Your degree classification is generally a good reflection of your experience over the past three years at university and is likely to determine the direction your life takes for many years after university,” Dr Morgan said. “Black and minority ethnic students will know they are not succeeding and express this in satisfaction surveys.”

The Hepi-HEA study says that students whose higher education experience fell short of their initial expectations were more likely to be dissatisfied, and finds that ethnic minority students often fell into this category. Seventeen per cent of students of Asian ethnicity felt that their time at university had not lived up to expectations.

Among students whose expectations were not met, 29 per cent said that they had not felt supported in independent study, but this figure was markedly higher among Asian students (37 per cent) and those students living at home (31 per cent).

Jonathan Neves, surveys manager at the HEA, said that these results were particularly striking because of the finding that the majority of Asian students (53 per cent) live at home, compared with just 23 per cent overall.

“It’s really clear that students of Asian ethnicity from the UK are extremely likely to be living in the family home, and there seems to be a link between not living with other students, possibly not gaining access to the same level of support, and lower satisfaction,” Mr Neves said. “Universities need to understand different types of students and put things in place to make sure all students feel they are supported as much as possible.”

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