A statistical study of “attainment gaps” (and their causes) in students’ performance in STEM subjects at a post-1992 UK university

Ruvinga, Stenford, Davis, Mastaneh and Hunter, Gordon (2017) A statistical study of “attainment gaps” (and their causes) in students’ performance in STEM subjects at a post-1992 UK university. In: Horizons in STEM Higher Education Conference: Making Connections, Innovating and Sharing Pedagogy 2017; 29-30 Jun 2017, Edinburgh, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Previous research (e.g. ECU (2008)) has indicated an “attainment gap” between certain groups of students in Higher Education. Even when factors such as socio-economic background and pre-University attainment levels have been controlled, Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic (BAME) students tend to achieve lower grades than their White peers. In some disciplines (notably some sciences), there is also a marked gap between genders. A previous project at Kingston (2015) indicated that STEM students’ performance at one level of their HE studies correlated significantly and positively with their performance at later levels. However, the regression coefficients (notably the slope) relating their grades at different levels varied considerably between subject disciplines, and subject-specific simple regression only explained a modest proportion of inter-person variation. However, that study did not take any account of students’ individual attributes, e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background. In this paper, we extend the previous project by taking such additional factors into account, to investigate how students from different backgrounds and of different genders and ethnicities perform at different levels of their degree studies. Use of multivariate (multiple linear regression and logistic regression) and multi-level regression models have yielded “all else being equal” results, indicating that BAME students typically achieve marks around 3% lower than those of their white peers, and older students tend to perform less well than younger ones. We are also investigating the influence of students’ socio-economic backgrounds and entry qualifications on their performance at University, and the influence of all these factors on student progression and attainment of “good” (First or Upper Second Class Honours) final degrees. These results could be of considerable value for monitoring and addressing the BAME and gender attainment gaps at Kingston University and elsewhere, and to identifying and rectifying the origins of the problem.

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