There are significant equality gaps between different ethnic groups in terms of access, success and progression in higher education. The extent of these gaps vary depending on ethnic group and stage of the student lifecycle.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME)

Data from the Department for Education’s higher education widening participation statistics shows a large range in the proportions of students from different minority ethnic backgrounds entering higher education.

Some groups are more underrepresented than others. This means that, where the data will allow it, providers should consider specific ethnic sub-groups rather than the homogenous definition of black, Asian and minority ethnic students.

There are persistent gaps in non-continuation and degree attainment between different groups of students. It can also be argued that providers have more direct control over these issues, and that their work can have rapid and significant effect.

The OfS has therefore set an ambitious target to eliminate the gap in attainment between white and black students where the gap is currently the widest.

Why is this important?

  • UCAS data highlights differences between ethnic groups going to the most prestigious providers. Black students go to these providers in the lowest numbers.
  • Our analysis shows that more BAME students discontinue their studies (apart from students of Chinese heritage) compared with their white peers. More black students discontinue their studies than any other ethnic group.
  • Our analysis also shows that fewer BAME students achieve a first-class degree or a 2:1 than their white peers. This gap becomes much wider for students who enter higher education with BTECs rather than A-levels. 

White British students from low socio-economic status backgrounds

White British students from the lowest socio-economic status backgrounds are less likely than any other group to access higher education.

Providers should consider how students’ ethnicities may interact with other indicators of disadvantage. They might, for example, consider how gender or socio-economic background relates to ethnicity (for example, black Caribbean male students from a low socio-economic background).

Without considering multiple demographic factors, the targeted work that providers do may be less effective for those groups who experience the greatest inequalities.  

Effective practice

Listening to the views of students from different ethnic backgrounds is the best way to understand their experiences. This can help when thinking about programmes of work and support measures to addressing inequality of opportunity.

Providers need to look at their own institutional practices and any possible systematic biases. The support they might offer to students could include: curriculum reviews, inclusive pedagogy, staff training and support services, to ensure practices are inclusive for all students.

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