The Impact of the Awarding Gap on Student Success
Hannah West
Research Lead
In this article;

The university awarding gap is a topic that has gained significant attention in recent years. The term refers to the difference in the percentage of higher education degrees awarded to different groups of students, particularly students of different ethnicities. The awarding gap is a significant issue for UK universities, given its profound impact on student success, but it can be challenging to tackle given how deep-rooted many of the causes are. In this article, we will examine the causes of the awarding gap, its impact on student success, and what you, as Student Services professionals, can do to address it.

Causes of the Awarding Gap

Awarding gaps exist between several groups in UK universities, such as those in differing socio-economic backgrounds or those of different genders, but it is most prominent between white students and those of different ethnicities. According to Universities UK, there was an 8.8% gap between the percentage of white students and BAME students awarded a First or 2.1 in their degree in 2020/21, widening to 18.4% when comparing white students with Black students.

So we know that the ethnicity awarding gap is a problem, but why is this the case? The answer is a complex one, and currently data fails to nail down which of the many potential reasons are the biggest factors. Let’s explore some now.

BAME students often face a range of challenges that can impede their academic success. For one, discrimination and bias, whether in the form of racial microaggressions, lower expectations from faculty, or a lack of representation in the curriculum, can create an unwelcoming and unsupportive learning environment. These experiences can lead to a sense of isolation and impact students' engagement, participation, and performance.

Cultural barriers also play a role in the awarding gap. Where there are BAME students that have come to the UK from elsewhere, some may find it difficult to navigate the cultural norms of Higher Education institutions that do not reflect their own experiences and backgrounds. This can affect their ability to connect with peers and faculty, potentially limiting their access to academic support networks and resources. Additionally, the lack of culturally competent support services can leave some BAME students without the necessary guidance to thrive academically.

The intersection of ethnicity with other factors such as socio-economic status can then further exacerbate the awarding gap. BAME students from lower socio-economic backgrounds may encounter compounded challenges, including financial constraints that limit their educational opportunities and resources. Addressing these complex and interrelated issues is crucial for closing the awarding gap and ensuring equity in Higher Education outcomes.

Addressing the Awarding Gap

Universities can implement several tangible steps through Student Services to address and narrow the awarding gap. Here are some actionable strategies:

1.   Financial Support Initiatives

Establish comprehensive financial aid programs that include scholarships, bursaries, and emergency funds specifically targeted at students from relevant backgrounds. Ensure that information about these resources is easily accessible and widely disseminated.

2.   Academic Support Services

Create robust tutoring and mentoring programs that pair students with academic advisors or peer mentors. Offer workshops and courses focused on study skills, time management, and exam preparation to help students succeed academically.

3.   Bias Awareness and Inclusion Training

Develop engaging training sessions for faculty, staff, and students that focus on recognising unconscious bias, cultural competency, and inclusive teaching practices. Regularly review and update training materials to reflect the latest research and best practices.

4.   EDI Policies

Implement clear policies that promote equality, diversity, and inclusion within all aspects of university life. Establish a reporting system for discrimination and incidents of bias, and ensure that there are consequences for such behaviour.

5.   Curriculum Review and Reform

Conduct periodic reviews of the curriculum to identify and address gender biases and the underrepresentation of minority perspectives. Encourage the inclusion of diverse authors and topics that reflect the student body's diversity.

6.  Student Co-creation

Work alongside BAME students, taking their opinions and ideas into account and creating a university-wide approach to inclusion and equity.

7.   Data-Driven Decision Making

Collect and analyse data on student performance and progression to identify gaps and monitor the effectiveness of interventions. Use this data to inform policy changes and the allocation of resources.

To Conclude

The university awarding gap is a significant issue that has a profound impact on student success, and it might seem like a near impossible problem to tackle. However, there are steps that universities can take to address the awarding gap and promote greater equality and diversity. By providing more support for disadvantaged students, addressing discrimination and bias, and challenging gender stereotypes, universities can create an environment that is more inclusive and supportive for all students.

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