Home > News and blog > Tackling gaps in BME students' achievements at university

Tackling gaps in BME students' achievements at university

​University and student leaders are today launching a major drive to improve the attainment and university experience of black and minority ethnic (BME) students across the UK.

Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS, and Amatey Doku, Vice President for Higher Education at the National Union of Students (NUS), will lead the joint initiative between Universities UK (UUK) and the NUS to help universities tackle the BME attainment gap.
There was an almost 50% increase in the number of BME undergraduates in England between 2007 and 2016. There is, however, disparity in the attainment of students from BME backgrounds once they get to university. 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.
Data also shows that qualifications before attending university, although a key factor in degree outcomes, do not explain the differences between ethnic groups.
In many universities, university leaders, staff and students have been working together on initiatives to address the issue for some time, but progress has been inconsistent across the sector.
UUK and NUS are launching a nationwide call for evidence from university staff, students and their representatives to identify best practice so that universities can close these gaps in attainment.  A series of evidence gathering sessions and online survey data from students and staff will inform the recommendations which will be made later this year.
This work aims to:

  • Increase understanding of the barriers to BME student success
  • Identify initiatives that have been successful in addressing this
  • Share experiences and best practice of what works in narrowing the BME attainment gap
 The outcome of the work will be published in December to help inform policy and decision making within universities, as well as government officials and parliamentarians.

Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS, said:

“This is a pressing problem. Too many students from BME backgrounds who get into university have a challenging experience. Many drop out and all the evidence points to an attainment gap.  We need to understand the barriers to BME student success so we can eliminate these gaps.
“We are asking students and staff to tell us about their experiences and what has worked and not worked. We need to identify any gaps in our understanding and practice so that we can improve the performance and university experience of black and minority ethnic students.
“We must ensure that students from all backgrounds can succeed.”
Amatey Doku, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), said:
“Attainment for black students at higher education institutions continues to be an area where there is racial inequality, with non-white students overall less likely to receive higher classifications for their degrees. The gap starkly demonstrates that universities are complicit in the perpetuation of structural inequalities.
“NUS has been instrumental in pushing for change and I’m delighted that finally we will begin to see real action. The findings of the audit will be invaluable when informing the recommendations later this year, with institutions and student representatives able to address the issue more systematically and collaboratively. The time for action is now and the call for evidence today is a step in the right direction, towards eradicating the gap that exists between white and non-white graduates and ensuring institutions take race equality seriously.”

  1. Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK’s universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to be the definitive voice for all universities in the UK, providing high quality leadership and support to its members to promote a successful and diverse higher education sector. With 136 members in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Universities UK promotes the strength and success of UK universities nationally and internationally. Visit: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk.
  2. The National Union of Students is a voluntary membership organisation which makes a real difference to the lives of students and its member students' unions. We are a confederation of 600 students' unions, amounting to more than 95 per cent of all higher and further education unions in the UK. Through our member students' unions, we represent the interests of more than seven million students. We promote, defend and extend the rights of students and develop and champion strong students’ unions

Key Contacts

Jo Hindle

Jo Hindle

Head of Media
Universities UK

Luke Lambert

Luke Lambert

Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Senior Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK


a student against a background of stripes

Presenting university income and spending to students

21 October 2019
David Phoenix on the importance of universities presenting their financial information to students.

Supporting care experienced students through university

8 October 2019
UUK's Amy Dicks sets out what universities can do to address the challenges care experienced people face when accessing and completing an undergraduate degree.


Universities UK pledges new support for universities to take urgent action on tackling racial harassment

23 October 2019
Responding to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on racial harassment in higher education, UUK has pledged to lead-cross sector action to support universities to take effective and urgent steps to prevent and respond to racial harassment

Survey demonstrates positive university progress in tackling harassment and hate crime, but highlights areas for improvement

9 October 2019
Almost 100 universities have been surveyed by Universities UK as a follow-up to its harassment and hate crime taskforce (Changing the Culture), exploring how institutions are addressing some of the challenges raised and acting on its recommendations.