White students outperform black peers at all English universities, figures show

White students are outperforming black undergraduates at all universities in England, new figures show.

Higher proportions of white students achieve the top two degrees at all universities in England compared with their black peers, according to data from the Office for Students (OfS).

The statistics show that while more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are entering higher education, there are still wide gaps in access between the most and least advantaged groups.

More than two thirds (67%) of English universities and other higher education providers had gaps in access for young students from the poorest backgrounds, the OfS says.

Only 89.2% of disadvantaged students continue their studies into their second year, compared to 94.2% of the most advantaged students.

While almost three-quarters of disadvantaged students (74.6%) are awarded a first or 2:1, this figure rises to 84.1% for students at the opposite end of the scale.


The dataset also looks at the difference between black and white students.

It reveals that for 2017/18, the the gap in attainment rates between white and black students was greater than 20 percentage points for 46.4% of providers.

The OfS said all of the 99 providers have higher proportions of white students achieving a 1st or 2:1 than black students.

Asked what possible explanations there could be for the attainment gap, Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the OfS, said there could be a number of causes.

He explained: “I think there are a number of things causing this, and there has been some interesting research into what the causes are.

“Some of the issues that are highlighted in the research is the relationships between students, and between students and staff – for example the extent to which students feel willing and able to go and get support from staff.

“In addition, the number of black academic staff in higher education is very low.

“There may also be issues about the nature of assessment practices and the extent to which they are inclusive and work for all groups of students.

“And then a lot people would talk about that sense of belonging in the university – if you’re from a minority group, if your family hasn’t experienced higher education before, if the academic staff don’t look like you, you potentially have less of a sense of belonging.”


For the first time, data has also been made available about the differences in outcomes for students who declare a mental health condition.

It shows that 86.8% of full-time students with a declared mental health condition progress into their second year of study, compared to 90.3% of full-time students with no known disability.

While 77.3% of full-time students with a declared mental health condition achieved a first or 2:1 degree classification, this compared to 78.7% of full-time students with no known disability.

Yvonne Hawkins, director of teaching excellence and student experience at OfS, said: “The data shows there are clear differences in outcomes for students who declare a mental health condition, compared to those students who have no known disability.

“Universities should look at the data closely and consider how they can continue to support students reporting mental ill health.”

Mr Millward added: “The dataset is a game changer for the way in which we hold universities to account on access and successful participation.

“It provides a more transparent picture of equality of opportunity in different universities than ever before.

“Universities will be held to account for their performance, not just by the OfS but by students and the wider public, who are increasingly expecting stronger progress in this area.

“The data shows that some universities are making stronger progress than others and we expect to use it to ensure that all now make significant improvements during the coming years.”