Black Students Awarded 1st Class Degrees Four Times Less Than White Students in 2018

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Statistics published by both The Gryphon and the University reveal large disparities between White and Black students in particular at the University of Leeds

Black Students were awarded Class 1 degrees at the University of Leeds at a rate that is four times less than White students in the academic year 2018-2019. In the last academic year, only 7.9% of Black students got a Class 1 degree compared to 33.3% of White students. This was an awarding gap of 25.4%.

Since 2015, the statistics also revealed that the gap has widened by 8%. In 2015-16, 25.5% of White students got a Class 1 degree compared to 8.1% for Black students. When looking at other racial groups too, White students were awarded better grades than Asian students and those classed at “Other” that included mixed-race students.

For Third Class honours and Fails too, gaps between White and Black students were also present. In 2015, 18.8% of Black students were awarded Fails or Third class degrees compared to 6.4% of White students. This represents a gap of 12.4%. 

In 2018, this gap has closed to 10.1% between students awarded this grade level. However Black students were awarded Third Class degrees or Fails 2.6 times more than White students.

A University of Leeds spokesperson said:

“We have committed to very clear targets to close the gaps in student success in our Access and Participation Plan. The gap between Black and White students’ success in particular is worrying, and as a University that absolutely values diversity and equal opportunity, we are determined to reverse this trend.

 “Our strategy is concentrating  on the critical factors that we think will really make a difference – with staff at all levels focused on tackling the issue, data analysis and research to understand gaps, barriers and impact of work, more opportunities to talk about race, cultures and actions, as well as our on-going work to ensure the curriculum is inclusive to students from all backgrounds and improve diversity of staff.”

In every academic year since 2015, Black students were awarded the lowest grades out of any other racial group in the University statistics while White students were awarded the highest. 

Overall, there was a 28.9% gap between Black and White students at the University of Leeds who were awarded a 2:1 degree classification or above in 2017/18, according to statistics detailed in the University of Leeds’ 2019-2020 Access and Participation Plan.

Abiha Khan, the Education Officer at Leeds University Union, in a statement said: 

“The BAME awarding gap is a national issue, and a key manifesto point for me personally this year. Among the actions I am taking, I am submitting policy to Better University Forum in November around whether the University should adopt and implement a strategy to close the BAME awarding gap.” 

“At LUU we are working on our first full report into the Leeds awarding gap and identifying the steps we can take to support our BAME members and highlight this issue at faculty and institution level, as well as disaggregating data to ensure we support those students who are disproportionately affected by these barriers.”

The BAME Awarding Gap is an issue at Universities across the country, with over half of Universities in England having gaps of 20% or more between Black and White students according to statistics revealed by OfS earlier in the year.

In a study by the Equality Challenge Unit,  56.4% of respondents claimed that the marginalisation of minority ethnic people was a reason for differential attainment by ethnicity. The report also stated that ‘vulnerability to racism, both past and present, of British minority ethnic students does not appear directly to be addressed by universities in an academic context’. Some respondents pointed out that BAME students might be concerned that previous marginalisation might be repeated at University. 

They also stressed that an inclusive academic environment is achieved ‘by inclusive everyday practices with respect to staffing, effectiveness of harassment procedures and the extent of inter-group interactions.

The survey stated that any degree of marginalisation were “seen to affect their confidence and their perceptions that could succeed at university”. 

Looking at the statistics in detail, 90% of White students were due to graduate with classified degrees achieved a classification of 2:1 or above in the 2017/2018 period. 

Given the 28.9% gap between Black and White students, this would suggest that only 61.1% of Black students graduated with a First or 2:1 degree during this period. This disparity was larger in the 2017/2018 period than in previous recent years with the University of Leeds has reported a mean average disparity of 25.9% between Black and White students.

Although there is still a significant disparity between the proportion of BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) students as a whole awarded classifications of 2:1 or higher compared to White students, it is substantially smaller than the gap between Black and White students. The University acknowledged in the Access and Participation plan that aggregating student statistics up to the BAME level does mask worse disparities between students but continue to group these statistics together nonetheless.

The University of Leeds reported a 12.7% gap between the proportions of BAME and White students achieving a 2:1 or First in 2017/2018. Again, this gap has widened in recent years – in 2013/2014, there was an 11.6% disparity between BAME students and White students achieving First and 2:1 classifications.

LUU stopped calling the gap between BAME students and non-BAME students “the BAME Attainment gap” in September in order to place more pressure on the University to take further action to close the widening gap and take pressure off BAME students who are not being awarded the same grades.

Being awarded higher grades is not the only area where the University of Leeds reports a significant gap between Black and White students. 

BAME students at the University of Leeds also have higher non-continuation rates than White students. On average, there is a gap of 2.7% between the proportion of BAME students and White students who do not go on to complete their degree. 

This gap is again more pronounced when looking particularly at Black students; there is an average gap of 4.8% in non-continuation rates between Black and White students, spiking to 5.9% in the most recently recorded year.

The University of Leeds reports that though, for almost all BAME groups, they are recruiting students in numbers representative of the general population. However, Black students are the exception with 3% of students recruited to the University of Leeds in 2017/2018 being Black, compared to 3.4% of the general population. 

Breaking this statistic down into ethnic groups, in the year 2018/2019 Black Caribbean students were underrepresented by 0.4%, Black African students were overrepresented by 0.3%, and students who identified as coming from “Other Black” background were underrepresented by 0.4%.

In addition to revealing these statistics, the University of Leeds’ Action and Participation plan details the University’s proposed strategies to decrease the above disparities. 

By 2024/2025 they aim to close the ‘unexplained gap between proportion of BAME & white students attaining a 2:1 or above from 12.7% to 5.5%, with the longer term aim to eliminate the gap by 2030/31’

Article by Megan Ardis, Associate Editor and Ed Barnes, Editor-In-Chief.

This article is on the front page of Issue 2 of The Gryphon in the academic year 2019-20. Copies can be picked up across campus until 31st October.

Illustration by Lauren Burnett

Main Image Credit: Nexus, University of Leeds