TACKLING THE ETHNICITY ATTAINMENT GAP The ethnicity attainment gap has made UK press headlines recently, highlighting inequalities in educational institutions. In the HE sector, the ethnicity attainment gap refers to the difference between the proportion of white, UK-domiciled students who are awarded a first or upper-second class degree and the proportion of UK-domiciled black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students who are awarded degrees of the same class. The persistence of the ethnicity attainment gap

raises questions about the responsibility of the HE sector for such inequalities. It challenges universities to make interventions to tackle it. BAME students begin university with the same grades as their white counterparts, but are less likely to receive a first or upper second. Universities are therefore working to deliver a

holistic approach to addressing the structural barriers that BAME students experience. The numerous factors that feed into the ethnicity attainment gap are complex, including embedded societal and institutional barriers in education and its delivery. To tackle the ethnicity attainment gap, universities

are placing emphasis on diversity policies becoming standard practice and embedded in institutional cultures. Experiences and actions of staff members have an impact on the performance of BAME students. For example, staff may be unaware of the demographics of their student populations and universities are working to address this. Another contributing factor is the lack of BAME staff members (particularly at senior and professorial levels) and so BAME students may feel disengaged by a lack of ethnically diverse role models. Again, this is an area of focus for senior management teams. Content design and delivery can also be contributory

“ International students do not view themselves as ethnic minorities although they frequently represent a wide range of different nationalities and cultures.”

factors to the ethnicity attainment gap and relative under-achievement by BAME students. Frustration can result if courses are designed and taught by non-BAME academics lacking understanding of potentially diverse backgrounds and views within the classroom. Delivery of a Western-centric curriculum can also play a part in contributing to the ethnicity attainment gap. HE institutions are working hard to address these

issues. One commonly used method is to take a context- specific approach. This is a series of co-ordinated interventions implemented across the institution by senior management via their academic and professional services staff members. Issues currently being addressed include tackling unconscious bias amongst staff (for example though training and practical issues such as the use of anonymous marking), emphasis on hearing and responding to the student voice, and the de-colonialisation of the curriculum. International students do not view themselves as

ethnic minorities although they frequently represent a wide range of different nationalities and cultures. Hearing their voices is increasingly becoming part of universities’ action to widen cultural understanding and improve student attainment outcomes.

CURRICULUM DE-COLONIALISATION De-colonialisation involves identifying colonial systems, structures and relationships and working to challenge those systems. De-colonialisation thus seeks to make the educational environment as equal and just as possible, thereby creating a welcoming and supportive environment for a wide range of students while fulfilling the academic mission of cultivating knowledge ideas and skills. Action is being taken to make curricula both informative

and performative. Informative is the conveyance of subject-specific content, while performative relates to subject parameters and the assignment of authoritative weight to the content within it. De-colonialisation requires addressing ideas and perspectives that normalise “Western-ness”. However, it is not simply the token inclusion of the intellectual achievement of non-white cultures; rather, it involves a paradigm shift from a culture of exclusion and denial to the making of space for other political philosophies and knowledge systems. Universities are thus undertaking a cultural shift to think more widely about the origin of common knowledge and to adjust curriculum delivery to recognise alternative cultural perceptions of power relations.


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