Hepi-HEA survey: ethnic minority students engage less with tutors

Annual survey of 14,000 UK undergraduates explores reasons for underachievement of black and ethnic minority learners

June 7, 2017
Black student on bench
Source: Getty
Outside: ‘black and minority ethnic students do very well on entry, but they fall behind as their degree progresses’

Black and ethnic minority students have far lower levels of engagement with their lecturers than their white classmates, according to a major survey of UK undergraduates.

As part of the 2017 Student Academic Experience Survey, conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute and the Higher Education Academy, just over 14,000 full-time undergraduates were asked about different aspects of university life.

Answering a new question, on learning gain, in the annual survey, two-thirds (65 per cent) of respondents said that they had learned “a lot” from their degree. However, Asian students were less likely to feel that they were learning “a lot” (59 per cent agree with this) than white students (66 per cent).

When asked if they felt motivated to “do their best” by their university tutors, 59 per cent of white students agreed that they were, compared with just 43 per cent of black students.

The differing levels of student engagement may “help to solve the conundrum” of why black and ethnic minority students gain lower university grades on average than white undergraduates, even when they have the same qualifications at the start of their degree, said Nick Hillman, director of Hepi.

“Black and minority ethnic students do very well on entry [to university] and have higher entry rates than white students, but they fall behind as their degree progresses,” Mr Hillman said.

“It might be the curriculum, or it might be that staff are much less diverse than the student body,” he added.

To address this problem, universities needed to think not just about the quality of the courses that they offered, but also about whether their staff adequately reflected the ethnic make-up of the student body, Mr Hillman suggested.

“The survey confirms that higher education transforms lives but also that it does not currently help all students equally,” he said.

Released in the week before the publication of the results of the teaching excellence framework, the Hepi-HEA study shows a marginal improvement in student satisfaction with teaching and contact hours in many areas, potentially as a result of the greater emphasis placed on teaching ahead of the TEF.

Some 65 per cent of students polled by the survey said that their course goals had been explained clearly, up from 63 per cent in 2016, while there was also a year-on-year improvement regarding whether teaching staff motivated students to do their best work (up from 51 per cent to 54 per cent). Asked if staff helped students to explore their own areas of interest, 37 per cent agreed, up from 33 per cent in 2016.

Students are also happier with the promptness of feedback from their teachers: some 48 per cent said that their expectations in this area had been met, up from 46 per cent in 2016, while 9 per cent said that they had been exceeded, a percentage point higher than 12 months ago.

Satisfaction levels regarding contact hours have also improved: 71 per cent of students with between 10 and 19 contact hours a week said that they were happy with this, up from 68 per cent in 2016. For those who had fewer than 10 contact hours a week, the rate was 55 per cent, up from 53 per cent.

Students are, however, working less overall than those in previous years. While the number of timetabled study hours increased marginally between 2015 and 2017, to 13.73 hours a week, independent study time has fallen, with students working two hours fewer than they did in 2015, the results suggest.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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