Exploring the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Student Attainment Gap: What Did It Tell Us? Actions to Address Home BME Undergraduate Students’ Degree Attainment


  • Susan Smith Leeds Beckett University




Black minority ethnic students, student experience, degree attainment.


This paper explores work in progress on six key actions derived from a project exploring Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) student degree attainment at Leeds Beckett University (LBU). In 2014–15, in common with the wider national picture in higher education, at LBU there was a significant disparity between the percentage achievement of good degrees (Firsts and 2:1 classification) between the white students (64%, who comprise 84% of the total institutional student population) and the BME students (49%, who comprise 16% of the total institutional student population). This attainment gap existed across all the degree programmes after controlling for UCAS tariff points on entry. Indeed, it has been indicated in the literature that the degree attainment gap is strongly related to the experience of teaching and learning at a university (Stephenson, 2012; Office for Fair Access [OFFA], 2015). This context provided the opportunity to examine the particular nature of the BME student experience with a view to using this information to develop local University strategy and actions in relation to identified priority areas. This research used a mixed methods approach of i) documentary analysis of course documentation wording to explore the visibility of inclusive curricular issues and ii) focus groups and interviews to explore staff and student views on BME student experience and achievement.

This paper presents findings from student and staff focus groups and documentary evidence from course documents of the five courses in our University which had the highest numbers of enrolled BME students. The findings focused on the BME students’ low confidence, their classroom and placement experience, curricular content, reading lists and delivery.

Discussion of these findings by staff and students generated six priorities for short term action. Progress on these actions and proposed future developments are outlined.

Author Biography

Susan Smith, Leeds Beckett University

Dr Susan Smith is Head of Curriculum Development and Review at Leeds Beckett University. She works in the Centre for Learning and Teaching. Her research interests focus on institutional curricular change, inter-professional education and the support of writing groups.


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