"The great unspoken shame of UK Higher Education" : addressing inequalities of attainment

Ross, Fiona Mary, Tatam, John Christian, Hughes, Annie Livingstone, Beacock, Owen Paul and Mcduff, Nona (2018) "The great unspoken shame of UK Higher Education" : addressing inequalities of attainment. African Journal of Business Ethics, 12(1), ISSN (print) 1817-7417


UK universities are achieving some success in attracting increasingly diverse undergraduate cohorts, although distributed unevenly across different types of institutions. It is therefore a concern that once at university, students from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds perform less well in their final degree classifications, even when entry qualifications, subject of study and student characteristics are taken into account. This paper firstly, reviews the research on what is understood about the BME attainment gap, described by an independent university governor as “the great unspoken shame of higher education” and secondly tells the story of institutional change initiated by Kingston University, which is a large, “modern” and widening participation institution in South West London. The multifaceted change involved: defining the problem; establishing an institutional key performance indicator; engaging the university leadership and academy; using a value added metric; and measuring attainment outcomes over a four year period. Results show significant improvement in attainment and qualitative evidence of improved staff awareness. The paper discusses the ethical challenges of complex and institutional change, including, the importance of committed leadership, the value of data as a vehicle for initiating engagement when staff are reluctant to discuss race, equality and social justice, and the implications for moving away from a student deficit to an institutional deficit model through developing inclusive cultures and an inclusive curriculum. It reflects on the parallels with higher education chances and success for young black South Africans and concludes with describing Kingston University’s role in influencing change across the sector.

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