What has commuting and COVID-19 taught us about understanding awarding gaps, a case study in the biosciences?

Page, Nigel (2022) What has commuting and COVID-19 taught us about understanding awarding gaps, a case study in the biosciences? In: Decolonising and Diversifying Biosciences Education Symposium; 19-20 Dec 2022, Cambridge, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Reasons for HE awarding gaps are complex with numerous causes proposed. London has some of the largest awarding gaps, where paradoxically there is higher secondary education attainment amongst ethnic pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Post-92 London universities such as Kingston attract a high percentage of these students, where many remain in the home environment. Nonetheless, these students can fair less academically than their white counterparts. We identified commuting as a significant differentiator between our ethnically diverse and white bioscience students, where 75% of white students lived local to campus compared to 40% ethnic students. This leads to significantly longer and complex journeys for those commuting that could play a significant role in explaining the awarding gap. Our wide-ranging analysis (n≈4000) found pre-pandemic awarding gaps for Asian, Black, and mixed race existed irrelevant of commuting status, where commuting added its own premium irrespective of ethnicity. We estimated that commuting contributed to around 10% of our observed awarding gap by virtue of having greater numbers of BME students who also commuted, leaving a significant contribution unaccounted. Commuting awarding gaps closed during the pandemic but not corresponding BME awarding gaps. Three-way intersectionality revealed lockdown benefited previously commuting white students whilst attainment for commuting ethnic groups remained unaffected. Non-commuting ethnic students were significantly affected by lockdown and suggest clear benefits for these students in normal circumstances living closer to campus. These results have implications in understanding decolonising the curriculum as irrespective of commuting or COVID-19, a substantive part of the awarding gap remained unexplained.

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