Vice Chancellor, Liz Barnes, reflects on the diversity of Staffs and how we can all work to be more inclusive as a society...
"Many of our students have grown up locally and commute to the university everyday (59%). They are first in their family to go to University. They have the same potential and are equally as bright as students all over the country, but we know that where you are born can impact on opportunity and hence success. Less social capital and limited social networks can be a contributory factor as can the lack of role models.
We have other challenges. We do not have a diverse community locally in terms of race. The Census 2011 included only 13.6% BAME population in Stoke and 6.4% in Staffordshire.
Diversity is not only about race, or nationality, but it is so important to our students and to their learning experience as they prepare to live and work in a global society. Hu Jintao a Chinese politician said “Diversity in the world is a basic characteristic of human society, and also the key condition for a lively and dynamic world as we see today.” We are keen to promote and develop an inclusive and diverse community in our University.
From this small local BAME population I am pleased that 19% of our full-time students are from a BAME background. However, this does not put us on a level playing field with the national average and we would like to see this proportion grow.
Therefore, we have challenges in our local demographic, but we have also identified multiple barriers to the recruitment and retention of BAME students. Many of the barriers are inter-related and the causes are multi-factorial. 82% of our black new entrants have been identified in the population with Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) 1 and 2, compared to 55% of the overall university new entrant population. This could be seen as positive, as entry to higher education is more of a challenge to this population and they have made it, a success, and it is important that we stress this, beginning a process of building confidence.
Often students who come from less traditional backgrounds have faced a series of barriers on their way to University and will feel less confident about both their ability and ‘right’ to be there. Most will not have role models in their circle of family and friends. It has been said that the biggest factor in improving social mobility is going to University and therefore they have taken a positive step to addressing the multiple challenges that they may have faced in their career progression.
Interestingly there is evidence that ethnicity seems to influence subjects chosen. A disproportionate number of Black students (24%) study Nursing and Midwifery, compared to other ethnicities (10.5%) and a disproportionate number of Asian students (17.2%) study Business subjects compared to other ethnicities (4.8%). This probably reflects family influence and cultural differences in perceptions of different career paths. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The challenge is ensuring that the subject choice is the right one for each student and that they have not been unduly influenced by their family and peer groups.
Black students also enter our degree courses with significantly lower prior educational attainment rates, with a deficit of 23 points (19% lower) compared to white students. As a University that welcomes students from diverse backgrounds, including many mature students with non-standard entry, we understand the kind of support that students with lower entry grades may require. However, bridging the gap is not easy and there is still more that we can and should do to understand more about the students’ lives, their learning styles and how different assessment methods may impact. However, if we really wish to address the challenges that our black students face, recognising the significant gap in their entry standards, more probably needs doing in schools.
It is known that students from low participation neighbourhoods are less likely to achieve a good degree. Our gap between polar4 quintile 1 and 5 is -3.4% and between performance of students with multiple indices of deprivation quintiles 1 and 5 -8.7%. Both are improving and better than sector average, demonstrating that we have made progress in supporting students from less traditional backgrounds. However, the combination of these factors plays out in the overall attainment gap for our BAME students, which is currently approximately 15%, above the national average (13.2%). This is not consistent across races.
Of all University students, 70.6% achieved a good degree, 69% of Asian students, but only 45% of black students. Also, of note for the broader BAME population and Asian students, the gap in performance at level 4 decreases as they progress to level 6, but for black students the gap increases. This suggests that there is a difference in the engagement of black students in their learning and in their ability to progress at the same rate as other students. Which points to a need for us to have a better understanding of the barriers to learning and how we can more effectively teach, assess and support students.
We have signed the Universities UK pledge to work collaboratively to tackle racial inequality and close the BAME attainment gaps by adopting principles outlined in the report ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Student Attainment at UK Universities: #Closing the Gap’. Through our Connected Curriculum we are seeking to continuously enhance the social capital of our most disadvantaged students through work-based learning, projects and placements. We will be focusing on confidence building, resilience, engagement and seeking to provide mentoring and role models.
On a more positive note we are seeing improvement in progression of BAME students into the workplace, but a gap of -5% remains between BAME and White students. Black students do better than other BAME groups with a gap of 3%. This is due to the high proportion of Black students entering employment in Nursing. However, there is a 9% employment gap between Asian and White students.
There are clearly many factors that impact on student performance from all backgrounds. It is important that we personalise our student learning, enabling each individual student to achieve their potential, recognising differences in learning styles, support needs and opportunity to engage with the many learning opportunities both formal and informal of University life. "
Professor Liz Barnes CBE
Vice Chancellor & Chief Executive
This article is part of our Black History Month Game Changer. Join the discussion on social media using #ProudToBeBlack and #WeAreStaffs.