The ethnicity degree awarding gap at universities means that white students are more likely to be awarded top grades in their degrees than Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students.
Our 2019 Closing the gap report urged universities to do more to close the awarding gap between white and BAME students.
We’ve worked with students’ union representatives and staff to take a look at the awarding gap, three years on.
Why do we need to close the gap?
The gap is a key indicator of racial inequality in the university sector that we must address. It’s an issue that needs long-term solutions and collaboration between people across universities.
The gap between the percentage of white students and BAME students awarded a First or a 2:1 for their degree (2020/21).
The gap between the percentage of white students and Black students awarded a First or 2.1 in their degree (2020/21).
The gap between the percentage of white students and BAME students awarded a First in their degree (2020/21).
In 2019, we called for universities to tackle inequality between students of different ethnicities in the awarding of degrees.
While progress has been made since 2019, there is still a substantial gap between the likelihood of white and BAME students awarded a First or 2:1 in their degree. It’s clear that a student’s ethnicity can significantly affect their degree outcome, even when other factors such as prior attainment are taken into consideration.
For me it is important for everybody to realise that there is a problem. There is a situation, and even if those conversations are very uncomfortable, you have to face them, because without facing them, you're ignoring them, and there's no change.
Full-time Officer for School of Social Sciences & Social Professions and incoming President, London Met Students’ Union
How did we carry out our research?
We worked with senior university leaders, as well as university staff and students’ unions, to find out what has been successful since 2019, what’s been less successful, and what more needs to be done.
We did this through:
- an online university survey, with 57 responses from senior leaders in learning, teaching and student experience roles
- three focus groups with 26 students’ union representatives
- three focus groups with 25 university staff representatives
- input from senior university leaders
- feedback from our conference, Closing ethnicity awarding gaps 2022, attended by 117 individuals from across the sector, including staff and students
We also asked some of these staff, students’ union representatives and students about their personal experiences.
These accounts show how the problem personally affects BAME students and staff, and how staff can work with students to close the gap.
What does the data say?
- The gap between white and BAME students being awarded a First or a 2:1 for their degree has reduced from 13.2% for 2018 graduates to 8.8% for 2021 graduates.
- The gap between white and Black students has seen the biggest reduction. However, the gap between white and Black students being awarded the top grade (a First) for their degree has got worse, standing at 9.5%.
- White students are still more likely to be awarded higher grades for their degrees than students of all other ethnicities.
- 19% of academic staff with a known ethnicity are BAME. Just 2.5% of academic staff are Black.
How can we close the gap?
University leaders have already committed to removing ethnicity degree-awarding gaps, particularly since we published our original Closing the gap report in 2019.
But universities now need to:
- prioritise co-production with students, jointly developing and implementing a strategic, whole-university approach to removing the gap
- ensure there’s accountability for all staff within every academic faculty and every professional services department to work to remove the gap
- build an understanding of what success looks like and how it can be maintained