July 2, 2019, by Simon Langley-Evans

The Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) Attainment Gap: learning from the student experience

“The Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME)Attainment Gap: learning from the student experience”

School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London, June 2019

On 5thJune 2019 I attended the Universities UK (UUK)/National Union of Students (NUS) BAMEAttainment Gap conference at SOAS University of London, encouragingly along with 3 other University of Nottingham colleagues: Katherine Kadio, Cassandra Ulrich and Julia Carson Little, all of us working in different departments across the university. It was an excellent and very well-attended 1 day event; the first of its kind organised by Universities UK. It consisted of a good variety of speakers, including both students and staff from a range of UK universities, who have all been involved in actions that aim to reduce the current sector-wide attainment gap of university BAME students, as compared to white students. In addition to the core speakers, there were some panel discussions and breakout sessions.

I will try to sum up some of the key information and messages that were communicated at the event, as well as suggest some relevant resources that you may find interesting and useful.

The recent UUK/NUS report states:

“Of the disparities that exist within higher education, the gap between the likelihood of White students and students from Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds getting a first- or upper-second-class degree is among the most stark – 13% among 2017–18 graduates.”

Current available data shows that this is a UK-wide problem, and attainment gaps are not removed by controlling for other factors such as differences in entry qualifications or socioeconomic status. However, this can vary widely between subjects, with gaps often being lower in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. In fact, University College London (UCL) showed some of their data broken down by subject area, and showed stark differences in BAME student attainment between different subject areas, with BAME students actually outperforming their white counterparts in some areas. Consequently, it was highlighted the importance of gathering the right data and carefully analysing where attainment gaps are present so that positive actions can be appropriately targeted and prioritised.

For many UK universities such detailed data isn’t currently easily available, so actions are needed to acquire this data and analysis required to identify problem attainment areas. However, there was a very clear message echoed throughout the conference:

“A lack of data should not be a barrier to taking action. Assume an attainment gap until proven otherwise.”

We also need to examine BAME student retention, and career progression after university, and importantly, regardless of the extent of any attainment or retention gaps, we need to hear BAME student and staff experiences and ensure representation and inclusivity across the university.


So what can we do now?

Below is a list of approaches, compiled from the presentations by several UK universities and that have helped to reduce their attainment gaps:

  • Collect appropriate data and use it to inform action plans and educate staff/students
  • Use value-added attainment scores (to control for entry qualifications)
  • Capture BAME student and staff experiences with associated support
  • Create paid BAME student advocate roles with representation from across the university
  • Enforce anonymous marking
  • Create BAME working groups
  • Create BAME mentoring schemes – i.e. with external BAME professionals
  • Develop ethnically-inclusive curriculums: facilitated by student curriculum partners, and mandatory programme inclusive curriculum health checks
  • Have conversations about race – create a culture where this can happen safely, a glossary of appropriate race terms could help
  • Staff and student training – Compassionate and inclusive teaching workshops
  • Appropriately acknowledge/remunerate BAME staff and students for their efforts and ensure individuals are not overburdened/negatively affected
  • Increase ethnic diversity of staff
  • Strong and committed leadership to drive change and ensure equal opportunities to achieve


All 4 of us who attended from The University of Nottingham were fascinated by the speakers and the discussions that took place, and have returned more knowledgeable about the BAME attainment gap and more generally about racial issues within UK universities and wider society. Most importantly, we have been further inspired to pursue positive actions and have learned of a plethora of ideas of what these might be.

Please find below a selection of relevant resources:



  • UCL guide to BME belonging:




  • Theo Gilbert’s compassionate teaching (University of Hertfordshire):







  • UUK videos from 6 BAME students:




  • Decolonising the arts curriculum: Perspectives on Higher Education



Natalie Mack, School of Biosciences

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