“The great unspoken shame of UK Higher Education”: addressing inequalities of attainment
AbstractUK universities are achieving some success in attracting increasingly diverse undergraduate cohorts, although distributed unevenly across different types of institutions. It is therefore a concern that once at universities, overall students from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds perform less well in their final degree classifications, even when entry qualifications, subject of study and student characteristics are taken into account. This paper firstly, reviews the research on what is understood about the BME attainment gap, described by an independent university governor as “the great unspoken shame of higher education” and secondly tells the story of institutional change initiated by Kingston University, which is a large, “modern” and widening participation institution in South West London. The multifaceted change involved: defining the problem; establishing an institutional key performance indicator; engaging the university leadership and academy; using a value added metric; and measuring attainment outcomes over a three year period. Results show significant improvement in attainment and qualitative evidence of improved staff awareness. The paper discusses the ethical challenges of complex and institutional change for example, the importance of committed leadership, the value of data as a vehicle for initiating engagement when staff are reluctant to discuss race, equality and social justice, the implications for moving away from a student deficit to an institutional deficit model through developing inclusive cultures and an inclusive curriculum. Finally the paper concludes with describing Kingston University’s role in influencing change across the sector. The approach to changing inequalities in student attainment will be rolled out to six other institutions, supported by a large award from the funding council.
Belfield C., Cribb J., Hood A., Joyce R (2016) Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2016 Institute of Fiscal Studies https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/publications/conferences/hbai2016/ahood_income%20inequality2016.pdf
Berry, J. and Loke, G. (2011) Improving the degree attainment of Black and minority ethnic students. Higher Education Academy and Equality Challenge Unit. Available at: http://www.ecu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/external/improving-degree-attainment-bme.pdf
Blunkett, D. 2000. Modernising higher education: Facing the global challenge. Speech at the University of Greenwich, February. Available at: http://www.hesa.ac.uk/index.php/content/view/818/251/
BIS (2015) Socio-economic, ethnic and gender differences in higher education participation. Paper 185. Department of Business Innovation and Science, London
Broecke, S. and Nicholls, T. (2007) Ethnicity and Degree Attainment. Department for Education and Science Research Report No RW92. London. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/RW92.pdf
Burke, P.J. (2012) The right to higher education: beyond widening participation. Routledge London
DfE (2015) GCSE and equivalent attainment by pupil characteristics: 2015, Department for Education, Published January 2015. Available at
Equality Challenge Unit (2015) Statistical report 2015, Equality Challenge Unit. Available at
Equality Challenge Unit (2016) Statistical report 2016, Equality Challenge Unit. Available at
Hall, M. (2012) Inequality and higher education: marketplace or social justice? Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.
Available at: http://usir.salford.ac.uk/19491/1/Inequality_and_Higher_Education_%28published_Jan_2012%29.pdf
Hazelkorn E (2017) What does global higher education mean for higher education leaders? Leadership Foundation Higher Education. London
Hefce (2013) Higher education and beyond: Outcomes from full-time first degree study. Issues paper 2013/15 Higher Education Funding Council, Bristol. Available at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/pubs/2013/201315/Higher%20education%20and%20beyond%20Outcomes%20from%20full-time%20first%20degree%20study.pdf
Hefce (2015) Differences in degree outcomes: The effect of subject and student characteristics. Issues paper 2015/21 Higher Education Funding Council Bristol.Available at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/HEFCE,2014/Content/Pubs/2015/201521/HEFCE2015_21.pdf
Husbands C (2017) Universities, don’t rest on your laurels – use the TEF to improve. Guardian 23 June https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/jun/23/universities-tef-improve
McDuff N., Tatam J.C., Beacock O., Ross F.M. (accepted for publication) Closing the attainment gap for students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds through institutional change. Journal of Widening Participation and Life Long Learning.
Nixon J. (2011) Higher Education and the Public Good: imagining the university. Continuum International Publishing Group
Office for Fair Access (2017) Outcomes of access agreement monitoring for 2015-16 Office for Fair Access. Available at
Preece, J. (2006) Widening participation for social justice: poverty and access to education. Widening Access to Education as Social Justice p 113-126.
Runnymede (2015) Aiming Higher, Race, Inequality and Diversity in the Academy, Runnymede Perspectives Series. Runnymede Trust
Shattock M (2013) Public expenditure and tuition fees: the search for alternative ways to pay for higher education. In Callender C., Scott P. (eds) Browne and beyond: modernizing English higher education. Institute of Education Press. Bedford Way Papers
Singh, G. (2009) Black and minority ethnic (BME) students’ participation in higher education: improving retention and success: A synthesis of research evidence. York: Higher Education Academy. Available at https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/BME_synthesis_FINAL.pdf
Stevenson, J. (2012) Black and minority ethnic student degree retention and attainment, Higher Education Academy, Higher Education Funding Council. Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/bme_summit_final_report.pdf
Watson D., (2014) The question of conscience: higher education and personal responsibility. Institute of Education Press, Bedford Way Papers
UUK (2016) Working in partnership: enabling social mobility in higher education. Universities UK. Available at http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Pages/working-in-partnership-enabling-social-mobility-in-higher-education.aspx
Vertovec, S. (2007) Super-Diversity and its implications. Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 30 No. 6 November 2007 pp.1024-1054.
This journal is an open access journal, and the authors and journal should be properly acknowledged, when works are cited.
Authors may use the publisher's version for teaching purposes, in books, theses, dissertations, conferences and conference papers.
A copy of the authors’ publisher's version may also be hosted on the following websites:
- Non-commercial personal homepage or blog.
- Institutional webpage.
- Authors Institutional Repository.
The following notice should accompany such a posting on the website: “This is an electronic version of an article published in AJOBE, Volume XXX, number XXX, pages XXX–XXX”, DOI. Authors should also supply a hyperlink to the original paper or indicate where the original paper (http://ajobe.journals.ac.za/pub) may be found.
Authors publisher's version, affiliated with the Stellenbosch University will be automatically deposited in the University’s’ Institutional Repository SUNScholar.
The following license applies:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.