Universities must listen more closely to their BAME staff and students

There is stark evidence that there is a gap between how well black and minority ethnic students do at university and the performance of their white peers. The most up to date stats show a gap of 28 percentage points between black and white students in terms of receiving firsts or 2:1s at university. Yet despite the fact that this evidence has been around for a while, the gap doesn’t seem to be closing. The Guardian reports. 

The Guardian’s recent series on bias attests to how this can affect people at every level of society. Yet many myths persist within universities as to why the BAME attainment gap persists. For example, I have often heard that BAME students underperform in education because they lack confidence compared to their white counterparts. But when census data was reviewed by the Runnymede Trust, it showed that BAME students marginally surpass their white peers at GCSE level.

So what’s going wrong? Experienced researchers in this area, such as Prof Jacqueline Stevenson, who heads research at Sheffield Institute of Education, found that BAME students feel just as confident as their peers at university. The main difference is a sense of entitlement to its support services, resources and opportunities, she found. If a lack of confidence is not the problem, it appears that the presence or absence of a sense of privilege might be playing a larger role.

In my experience as a lecturer, universities aren’t doing enough to listen to the lived experiences of BAME staff and students. I attended several talks that have discussed the attainment gap: they were primarily aimed at (mainly white) widening participation staff tasked by their universities with “fixing the problem”. On the occasions that BAME staff or students were present at these events, they often functioned as “bystanders”, with few opportunities to participate in discussions. This was compounded by the use of confusing university policy jargon.

 Strategies must be tailored to the individual institution and its culture, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, what might be suitable for a university with a large BAME student population (such as London Metropolitan) might be less applicable to a university on the fringes of London with a different student intake, such as Roehampton.

The strategic approach should involve the staff and students it affects, and focus on the specific barriers to attainment. A good example is Kingston University’s inclusive curriculum framework. This makes eradicating race inequality a priority across all parts of the university, from curriculum design to teaching to assessment.

Read the full article Universities must listen more closely to their BAME staff and students

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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