Degree gap between black and white students ‘may take 66 years to close’

The “degree gap” between white students and their black peers could take another 66 years to close at the current rate of change, an analysis suggests.

Universities’ progress in narrowing the ethnicity awarding gap has been too slow, according to a member of the Advance HE executive group.

The analysis of equality data shows that while the proportion of both white and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students receiving top degrees has risen since the previous year, the awarding gap has remained static.

Overall, 81.4% of white students received a first or 2:1 degree in 2018-19, compared to 68% of BAME students – a degree awarding gap of 13.3 percentage points.

The proportion of black students awarded top degrees is even lower (58.8%) – a gap of 22.5 percentage points, the report shows.

Gary Loke, director of knowledge, innovation and delivery at Advance HE, said: “At a sector level, progress on narrowing the ethnicity gap continues to be slow.”

The data shows that 80.9% of white students were given a first or 2:1 degree in 2017-18, compared with 67.7% of BAME students – a 13.2 percentage points gap.

In a blog on the Wonkhe website, Mr Loke said: “The white-BAME gap and the white-black gap have each on average changed by 0.3 percentage points between 2003-04 and 2018-19.

“At this rate of change it will be in 2070-71 when the white-BAME awarding gap will close, and 2085-86 when the white-black awarding gap closes.”

He called on universities to put in place actions to decolonise higher education and “dismantle structural inequality”, examining issues such as the diversity of staff and student support to address the gap.

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students (OfS), said: “University can transform the lives and careers of graduates, but we know that this is not happening for all students.

“As the data shows, over the last decade there has been painfully slow progress in addressing the attainment gap between white and black students.”

But he said there has been a shift in ambition from universities in addressing the issue as part of their access and participation plans.

“By 2024-25, if universities and colleges meet their new targets the gap between the proportion of white and black students who are awarded a first or 2:1 degree would almost halve,” Mr Millward added.

A Universities UK (UUK) spokesman said: “Universities are committed to ensuring that all students get the most from their studies, succeeding and progressing in their lives regardless of background or ethnicity.

“As this report indicates, there is still much work to do to eliminate racial inequalities in higher education.

“Universities need to continue working with Black, Asian and minority ethnic students to learn from their lived experiences and to remove any barriers they may face while studying and entering employment.

“Many of our members are already signed up to the race equality charter, and UUK is continuing its work across the sector to positively change the culture.”

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