Sat. Mar 23rd, 2024

The gap between white and Black students getting top degrees widens

By Maurizio Kayonjo Feb 9, 2024
Students at Kingston University. Photo: Maurizio Kayonjo

In 2023, only 52% of Black students at KU achieved firsts or upper-seconds compared with 80% of their white counterparts – a 28% difference. This gap was at its widest point in five years and had been reducing until the last year.

While some students report positive experiences, highlighting supportive lecturers and available resources, others raise valid points about the need to identify the root causes of the problem.

Saibou Tunkara, a 21-yearold music technology student expressed concern about the negative trend: “Having resources and help is good, but also focusing on how to get it in front of Black people as well will help have a positive boost to the stat.”

This is not a problem unique to Kingston – nationally for the academic year 2021-2022 (latest figures) the gap stands at 63% vs 83%.

 A University of Leicester report explores the challenges faced by Black students. It reveals that a lack of diversity in the curriculum makes it difficult for Black students to connect with content, making it harder for them to engage with assessments and coursework. The study also raises concerns about grade awards being influenced by the need to hide one’s identity, particularly affecting Black students.

A 2022 study titled: Mental Health and Mental Well-being of Black Students at UK Universities by Stoll et al, highlighted further challenges. Academic pressure emerged as a key factor contributing to mental distress for Black students in six out of 12 articles. These students described feeling overwhelmed by the many academic tasks they had to organise during their degrees.

They also faced additional pressures from their families and the wider Black community, which made them feel like they had to work harder in order to succeed at university. Some Black students avoided seeking mental health support, fearing it might affect their academic success.

Despite Unversity initiatives, significant challenges remain in addressing the degree awarding gap between White and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students. The need for a more inclusive curriculum, systemic changes and targeted support is evident. Research highlights the importance of promoting racial diversity in institutions, acknowledging the systemic disadvantages faced by Black students in degree awarding outcomes, and employment prospects.

A Kingston University spokesperson said: “We are committed to creating an environment in which all students, irrespective of their backgrounds, can thrive. Degree awarding gaps are a longstanding concern across the whole higher education sector.

“We have been widely recognised for the work we have undertaken to close degree awarding gaps.
After several years reducing the gap, we, like many universities, have seen our gap increase.

“We have developed an action plan to significantly reduce the gap over the next four years. This includes enhancing our teaching, engaging students in the development of course content to ensure it reflects their diverse experiences and increasing staff training.

“We will also continue to build on successful initiatives such as our ELEVATE programme, which helps students from Black heritage backgrounds to reach their full potential, and our Beyond Barriers mentoring scheme, which supports the development of students from underrepresented backgrounds.”

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