Universities admit they need to tackle the “pressing problem” that means black and minority ethnic students are less likely to qualify with top degrees than their white peers with the same A level grades.
A call for evidence has been launched by university and student leaders to help understand what barriers BAME students face in an attempt to close the attainment gap in higher education.
Almost four in five (78 per cent) of white students received a first or a 2:1 in 2015/16, compared to 66 per cent of Asian and 53 per cent of black students, Equality Challenge Unit data shows.
And qualifications achieved before attending university do not wholly explain the difference between ethnic groups, Universities UK (UUK) - which represents higher education institutions – said.
Consistently lower proportions of black or Asian students that achieved the same A Level results as their white peers go on to achieve a first or 2:1 at all grade boundaries, the data suggests.
Progress on the issue has been inconsistent across the sector, the report said. But now the UUK and the National Union of Students (NUS) have launched a joint initiative to identify best practice.
A series of evidence gathering sessions and online survey data from students and staff will inform the recommendations which will be published in December this year.
Baroness Valerie Amos, director of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, 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."
She added: "We need to understand the barriers to BME student success so we can eliminate these gaps. We must ensure that students from all backgrounds can succeed.“
Amatey Doku, vice president for higher education at the NUS, said: ”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 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."
Last month, the University of Hertfordshire announced a module on Black Lives Matter activist movement in an attempt to address the BAME attainment gap in higher education.
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