Conference focusses on 'closing the gap'

Research from the University has shown that black and minority ethnic (BME) students are more confident than white students of achieving a first class degree – contrary to the UK-wide attainment gap between the two groups.

The research was presented at a national conference entitled Closing the gap: research and practice on Black and Minority Ethnic student attainment in Higher Education at the University on Monday 27 June.

The conference featured a keynote address from Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education.

A two-year project at Kent found that a higher proportion of BME undergraduates are aiming for a first class degree result, and are confident of achieving it, than white students. But researchers Dr Alexander Hensby and Dr Lavinia Mitton, of the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, found that this relates more to pressure than overconfidence, with many admitting to concerns about the high expectations of their family.

It also found that class differentials and schooling affect how many BME students adjust to university life. Although conscious of the need to be an ‘independent learner’, this was often characterised as being ‘self-reliant’, with students reluctant to seek support from academic staff.

These expectations and pressures generate new demands on how students are supported by the university throughout their study. This prompted the University to review its academic adviser system, communication of assessment feedback, and signposting of student support services.

The project has enabled participating University academic schools to develop and test local interventions, allowing for initiatives to be tailored for the specific school environment. Researchers found that this also encouraged buy-in from staff teams, and facilitated the development of a joint approach within schools to addressing attainment gaps.