Good practice in reducing the BME attainment gap

Less than half of those universities who were involved in the pilot of the Equality Challenge Unit’s Race Equality Charter Mark were successful in getting the bronze award. Working at one of the institutions that did not make the cut (this time at least), I think it is useful to look at what else can be done to improve the situation.

I have chosen two cases here that I think provide some insight; Kingston University who achieved the award and the University of Derby who did not apply but have a very interesting initiative about BME attainment.

Having seen the institutional commitment at Kingston it is easy to see why they got the charter mark, you can see a great deal of Kingston’s data and strategies here. From the Vice Chancellor down, there is a high level of awareness of the issue and a range of departmental initiatives trying to address the attainment gap. What is particularly interesting to note is:

  • Kingston have an institutional KPI to reduce the attainment gap
  • They have a specific equality, diversity and inclusion unit
  • They have a broad-ranging and high profile EDI strategy aimed at embedding EDI into everything they do (which feels genuine rather than a ‘lip-service’ document).
  • They do a lot of data analysis on the issue and in particular look at intersectionality as well as individual demographic markers.
  • They are ambitious about their EDI work

When you look at both the current work that Kingston do and the scale of their ambition you can not fail to see how far behind most universities are.

Derby is an interesting case for two reasons. The first is that they have seen the BME attainment gap fall from 24% to 14% in three years and it is likely to continue falling to around 12% in the latest reporting year. Given the current state of play in the sector that is impressive especially if that reduction continues. Whilst they themselves might admit identifying the exact cause is tricky, there is one element that has contributed and is worth a mention; Practical Recipes for Student Success

Derby’s approach has been to try to raise attainment for all with the aim of reducing the attainment gap. As you will note, if you browse the site, there are a range of different elements that they are encouraging. Their findings have been that there is no single solution and that a wide range of (predominately) small changes can make the difference; a bit like the Kaizen idea or the notion of ‘marginal gains’ employed by British Cycling.

What is also interesting in both institutions approaches to EDI is that they are open (Kingston publish their data and strategies on their website, Derby’s resources are open and free to use and re-purpose) and very keen on sharing their practice. Which, for even the most cynical of manager, suggests that there is plenty of mileage for reputational enhancement through a strong commitment to EDI in universities even if you are skeptical about EDI.

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