Yes, it's true that considerable progress has been made in recent years both in widening access and increasing diversity – with disadvantaged 18-year-olds 82% more likely to enter university last year than they were back in 2006, and an almost 50% increase in the number of black and minority ethnic (BME) undergraduates in England between 2007 and 2016.
But it's not just about getting in, it's about getting on. Getting the most out of the higher education experience. So many students from BME backgrounds who get into university have a challenging experience, too many drop out and all the evidence points to a gap in the attainment of BME students.
The latest data shows that, while 78% of white students who graduated last year ended up qualifying with a first or a 2:1, 66% of Asian students achieved the same, and just 53% of black students.
The factors which contribute to these gaps are complex and multifaceted – with a student's social and economic standing as well as their individual university experience (whether that be linked to teaching, assessment, or even their sense of belonging) all playing a part. We know that there's a pressing problem because the data shows that qualification prior to entering university, although a key factor in degree outcomes, does not explain the differences between ethnic groups. Something else is going on.
Many universities have been doing work to address this gap over some time with collaborative work between university leaders, staff and student unions. But there is still a long way to go. Reducing and ultimately eliminating these attainment gaps, and improving equality of opportunity involves hard, sustained work from across the university sector.
I am very pleased to have been asked, on behalf of Universities UK, to lead a collaborative initiative between Universities UK and the National Union of Students to support and inform the sector's efforts to tackle the BME attainment gap. Today we are launching our call for evidence. We want to hear from you on a range of issues. For example:
What is the experience at your university of the barriers to BME student success?
What initiatives have been put in place to overcome these barriers? How successful have they been and why?
Where does the lead responsibility for tackling the attainment gap lie, and how do students and staff collaborate?
What more evidence and information do you need to enable you to tackle the issue?
There is a questionnaire for university staff and another questionnaire for university students and student representatives. If
you are not in one of these groups but would like to participate please do send
your thoughts by email to Emily Darian. We want to hear from as many of you as possible by
Friday 29 June 2018.
Your comments will help to inform a series of sector evidence sessions to be held over the next few months. We want to look in detail at the challenges and also the routes to success. We will also draw on what other organisations are doing – including Advance HE, as well as the upcoming reports from the Barriers to Student Success Catalyst Fund and from HEA/Runnymede Trust.
UUK and NUS will use the outcome of our work to help inform policy and decision making within universities as well as government officials and parliamentarians. We want to identify what ‘works’ across a variety of university settings and what further steps could be taken to ensure staff and students have the tools they need to address the issue.
Please take some time to give us your perspectives on this matter. Your voice is important. We want to ensure that all students from all backgrounds succeed.