Your Vice President: Education, Gemma Lovegrove, identifies the BME attainment gap and what is being done to tackle it.
As a University, Northampton is a diverse population of students with a lot of varying backgrounds and it is important to understand how these backgrounds shape our students' ability to succeed.
In fact, over 45% of our students are BME. The University and its staff are keen to explore and remove social and economic barriers for students that may conflict with their academic achievement.
Both the University and the Students' Union have invested time and money into exploring support avenues to assist students in achieving their best. Despite this, a gap remains between the number of white students gaining a ‘good’ degree and the number of black students achieving the same level.
Currently, the gap between the two at the University of Northampton is 15% at Undergraduate level and 14% at Postgraduate level, so a collaborative effort needs to be made to dismantle this. This is not an issue exclusive to the University of Northampton, indeed the National average gap is 15.6%.
Across the country, however, it is apparent how BME students find it more difficult to secure graduate employability, despite often having the same skills and grades as white students. Good degree outcomes are essential in securing graduate roles and acceptance on to further Postgraduate roles.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) puts increasing pressures on graduate outcomes, requiring universities to increase its efforts to help students develop themselves, their skills and their self-actualisation, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.
This requires the University and its partners to enhance BME graduate success and make sure that all students feel valued and represented. The University has responded to the need by reviewing their staff training/appraisals, and introducing the [email protected] DO programme, which not only approaches the needs of students and staff from a BME perspective, but also from a welfare and mental health scope.
We are fortunate enough to be unique in the fact that we are a Changemaker University and the Changemaker Hub is invested in improving the employability of all its students. They have a six-month BME mentoring scheme that allows students to build on their personal and professional skills while building key networks, therefore increasing their chances of employability.
Additionally, our Vice Chancellor has, with last year's BME Officer, created BME scholarship places, which will help students who would ordinarily struggle financially to put themselves through University. The fact that the University is an increased, widening participation institution helps to afford more people the opportunity to gain a degree, but we need to do more work to ensure that the opportunity is fair and proportionate to that of a white student.
Last year, the Students' Union and previous VP Education Danjie, along with the BME Officer, headed research into the difference between a white student’s experience of being at the University of Northampton and that of a BME student.
Black History Month is an ideal time to bring BME educational issues to the forefront of discussions with our academics and students alike. This includes what possible conscious and unconscious barriers exist in our institution and how they impact on personal educational experiences.
That is why, this year, the Students' Union will be hosting a follow-up BME panel to ask the question "Does my University represent me?". Asking these questions and enhancing student voice is a start to building on trust within our community whilst letting the students know that their Union is student-owned and a place where they can help instigate change and influence the academic experience of others.
Although the attainment gap is recognised nationally, little is known on how to rectify the problem. The issues are so ingrained, intertwined and steeped in history that it may take some time to extinguish it completely. They are often complex and it cannot be assumed that the experience of each BME student is the same as another.
There is a collaborative effort to bridge the gap, but more progress needs to be made. This requires speaking to those students affected, adapting policies and provisions to make them more inclusive and sharing good practice across institutions. That way, maybe one day, everyone will have a degree reflective of their individual ability and equal opportunities to gain secure employment beyond graduation.