Race and attainment

Hefce study identifies unexplained achievement gap between white and ethnic-minority students. Rebecca Attwood reports

June 16, 2010

There are large differences in different ethnic groups’ academic attainment at university, even after factors such as entry qualifications are taken into account, a study has found.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England examined the proportion of first- and upper-second-class degrees awarded to students starting full-time first-degree courses in 2002-03.

It found that 62 per cent of white students achieved a high classification, compared with 37 per cent of black students and 42 per cent of Pakistani and Bangladeshi students.

Meanwhile, only 25 per cent of mature black students were awarded a first or upper second. Among equivalent Pakistani and Bangladeshi students, the figure was 29 per cent. Both figures compared unfavourably with attainment among white mature students: 61 per cent achieved firsts or upper seconds.

Hefce also used a model that considered factors such as students’ entry qualifications, subject group, age group and location to determine how much of the difference in attainment could be explained by them.

After these factors were taken into account, there remained an unexplained 11 percentage-point difference between young white and black finalists, and a nine percentage-point difference between young white and Pakistani and Bangladeshi finalists.

The rate of “good” degrees achieved by mature Pakistani and Bangladeshi finalists was 22 percentage points lower than expected, the researchers found; among black mature students, the figure was 21 percentage points.

“This suggests that the differences between the groups cannot be wholly explained by the differences in the student profile. In fact, comparing mature white and black finalists, less than one third of the difference can be explained by the profile,” the report, Student ethnicity: Profile and progression of entrants to full-time, first degree study, says.

A conference on improving the success and attainment of black and minority ethnic students, organised by the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and Coventry University, is being held next month.

Meeting the challenge: Improving Black and minority ethnic student success and attainment will take place at the Coventry TechnoCentre on 8 July.


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