Black students more likely to engage in studies - but still attain lower degrees, study finds

Attainment gap at universities should be investigated further, report says

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 31 October 2019 19:07 GMT
'Applications might not convert into enrolments' in the case of a second wave
'Applications might not convert into enrolments' in the case of a second wave (Getty Images)

Black students are more likely to engage and participate in their university studies - and yet a larger proportion of them obtain lower-level degrees and have lower satisfaction, according to a new a new study.

Nearly two in three black students from the UK (65 per cent) report high levels of engagement, as opposed to white students (60 per cent) and Chinese students (56 per cent), the survey of nearly 30,000 undergraduates found.

But this dedication to their courses does not appear to translate into better outcomes when compared with other ethnicities, the report from higher education company Advance HE says.

The results also showed that black students are more likely to take part in sports and societies, volunteer and have jobs than white students.

“We can see a real body of evidence of how many black students devote significant time and energy to their time at university,” the report says.

It adds: “Clearly, the issue of ethnicity and attainment within the UK sector is complex and multifaceted and cannot be explained or ‘solved’ by simply ensuring greater levels of engagement. However, what the data does suggest is that the potential among black and minority ethnic (BME) students, and black students in particular, to invest in their own development is significant and could potentially be harnessed more effectively.”

The organisation is calling for an investigation into why the BME attainment gap still exists in the higher education sector despite high levels of engagement among black students.

The report's author, Jonathan Neves, said: “The untapped potential among black students given their high levels of engagement stands out in the findings and further research and exploration is needed in this area to support work to close the attainment gap.”

An annual study from think tank Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has repeatedly found that students from ethnic minorities are much less likely to be satisfied with their university experience.

Almost four in five (78 per cent) of white students received a first or a 2:1 in 2015-16, compared to just 53 per cent of black students, Equality Challenge Unit data shows.

On the findings, Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, told The Independent: "I think it shows how complex all these issues are. BME students often arrive at university with different experiences to other students and this can make it harder for people with some ethnic backgrounds to succeed even when they put lots of work in.

"For example, a relatively high proportion of BME students are the first in their family to attend higher education and may also enter university with a different mix of qualifications. Moreover, some students have to undertake more paid employment than others as their families are less wealthy, and this is known to disrupt students’ marks."

He added: "This is all very challenging for universities to address but address it they must if they are to deliver for all their students and help ensure fairness in educational outcomes."

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Last year, universities admitted that they need to tackle the “pressing problem” that means BME students are less likely to qualify with top degrees than white peers with the same A-level grades.

Universities UK (UUK) and the National Union of Students launched a call for evidence to help understand what barriers BME students face in an attempt to close the attainment gap in higher education.

A UUK spokesperson said: “Equality of opportunity in higher education is of the utmost importance. We have asked universities to take action to close the BAME student attainment gap and we have provided specific recommendations on how to ensure BAME students are given the best chance of success.”

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