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Group of students at a graduation ceremony 

Addressing the attainment gap

The attainment gap in degree performance between Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students and white students is under the spotlight. Both the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Equality Challenge Unit have been drawing attention to the proportion of UK-domiciled BME students who obtain a First or 2:1 class degree compared to their white counterparts. As UK universities consider how to address this issue, Nottingham is launching an important new initiative to reduce the attainment gap at our institution.  

Statistics and implications

While overall proportions of students who receive a First or 2:1 degree have increased over the past eight years, there continues to be a considerable gap between the proportion of white British students who receive these degree classifications compared to UK-domiciled students from minority ethnic groups, even when other factors such as A level results upon entry to university or the degree subject taken are taken into account. 

The implications of the attainment gap are far-reaching. For example, many graduate-level jobs and postgraduate courses stipulate a 2:1 degree or above as a minimum entry requirement. This means that minority ethnic graduates are less likely to be able to benefit from these opportunities, impacting the job market and academic pipeline. If students have not had a positive experience of higher education, or feel that they have not been allowed or encouraged to fulfil their potential, they are less likely to want to become academics. This is important at a time when UK higher education needs to increase the proportion of minority ethnic UK academics. 

So, how do we tackle this issue? There is a lot of interest and research in this area, with various different views on how to approach the attainment gap. The Equality Challenge Unit suggest that it will require a variety of different initiatives and approaches to address entrenched racial inequalities. They propose that action needs to focus on institutional barriers and inequalities, rather than 'improving' or 'fixing' the student.

In 2012/13, 73% of white British students received a top degree compared to 57% of UK-domiciled BME students – a gap of 16%. 

When the gap is broken down within the minority ethnic category, the attainment gap differs between groups. For example in 2012/13, 64% of Indian students were awarded a top degree (an attainment gap of 9%) while 44% of Black Other students were awarded a top degree (an attainment gap of 29%).


Traditionally, the language of the attainment gap has focused on students' underachievement or lack of attainment, whereas it should focus on the institutional culture, curriculum and pedagogy. Crucially, students must be at the centre of any actions that are taken, partners in addressing the gap. 

Our attainment gap initiative

This year, the University is launching a BME attainment gap initiative in collaboration with the Students' Union. Black and Minority Ethnic Students' Union Officers Florence Nwude and Adreanna Halliman commented: "As students are experiencing this issue, we want to see more BME student involvement to address and help decrease the gap. Diversifying the staff body at all grades is an important step the University can take to decrease the gap – representation is important. HEFCE have made £500,000 grants available for institutions to tackle the attainment gap. We'd like to work with the University to obtain this funding, in line with the core principles and values from Nottingham’s Global Strategy 2020 which places significance on diversity and equality."

Take part in our initiative 

In addition to student involvement, we would greatly welcome the support of alumni in this important initiative, especially those from a UK BME background. This could take the form of relating your experiences while at Nottingham or offering to mentor current BME students. If you'd like to be involved in this initiative, or kept informed of its progress, please contact the University's Academic Secretary Robert Dowling by emailing 



Alumni Relations

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telephone: +44 (0)115 823 2408
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