Goldsmiths has this week released a report showing the extent of the attainment gap between Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and their White counterparts, stating: ‘White students consistently perform better than all other ethnicities’. This information, published in an eleven-page report by Goldsmiths’ Strategic Planning and Projects, was released as a result of a Freedom of Information request made by The Leopard.
According to the report, in the 2016-17 academic year 29% of White students graduated with a first class degree, whilst only 12% of Asian students and 10% of Black students achieved the same grade. In the 2015-16 academic year the difference was even greater, with 25% of White students graduating with a first, compared to 9% of Asians students and a staggering 2% of Black students.
Looking at the two top grades together, 91% of White students graduated with a first or a 2:1 in the 2016-17 academic year, compared to 73% of Asian students and 69% of Black students. In 2015-16, 88% of White students received a first or a 2:1, with 70% of Asian students and just 58% of Black students getting those same top grades.
The report goes on to state: ‘Good honours [i.e. a first or 2:1] for Black students are consistently lower than all other ethnicity groups’. And this is the case even though ‘the proportion of students obtaining “good honours” was higher for all ethnicity categories at Goldsmiths than [...] the sector average.’
Given that the data of the report goes back to 2014-15 and this evidence is so damning, we have to ask why this hasn’t been addressed sooner. For an institution that is seen as progressive, this is a national embarrassment and shows that Goldsmiths is not providing a tailored experience for BAME students.
The consequences of this now-proven BAME attainment gap at Goldsmiths are widespread and lifelong. The entry requirements of many graduate schemes and jobs require a 2:1 as a minimum, which means that BAME students will be less likely to be accepted or even invited for an interview. The same goes for postgraduate degrees and academic posts, which already see a disparity between White and BAME staff. A report made by the University and College Union in 2012 stated that BAME academic staff ‘make up 13% of non-professorial academic posts, yet only 7.3% of professorial roles.’ They continued that ‘Black professors earn 9.4% less than their white counterparts.’ The full report is available here.
A lack of representation within academic staff and White-dominated seminar classes of course has the potential to affect the self-esteem, confidence and motivation of BAME students, as well as their desire to continue education. This can lead to feelings of marginalisation and a lack of retention amongst BAME students from year to year. This is evidenced clearly in the report, which states: ‘issues evidently arise with continuation, progression and degree attainment for BAME students – most clearly amongst our Black student population.’
So perhaps ‘attainment’ is the wrong word to use when addressing this issue, because it’s not just a gap in end achievement but something that follows a BAME student throughout the three years of their degree. It is crucial that Goldsmiths works to gain a greater understanding of how and why race and ethnicity play a role in this higher education gap and to deconstruct society’s institutional inequalities.
The reason for such a large gap in attainment is unclear from the report. Marking is anonymous, however it is clear from the published statistics that BAME students are consistently achieving lower than their White counterparts year on year. In an article by Times Higher Education published all the way back in 2012, Professor Aneez Esmail of the University of Manchester said that social inequality was a contributing factor for the BAME attainment gap. He suggested that improving induction classes could improve engagement amongst BAME students, as well as relatively small changes such as more detailed feedback on assessments.
These attainment figures are even more important to consider given the community that Goldsmiths is in. According to data published online by Lewisham’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment in 2013, two out of every five Lewisham residents were from a BAME background, with Black African and Black Caribbean backgrounds together making up 30% of Lewisham’s total population. This makes Lewisham the 15th most ethnically diverse local authority in England. Seeing as Goldsmiths provides ten 'full tuition fee waivers for talented students who live in Lewisham', questions need to be asked about the impression given by such a large attainment gap.
The report ends by stating that the findings will 'inform internal discussions on how we can address some of the issues raised' and that the University 'would welcome comments' on this issue.
But there is clearly urgent work to be done in the wake of this report. As well as publishing a statement on the SU website, Tara Mariwany, Welfare and Diversity Officer at Goldsmiths SU, told The Leopard: ‘I hope that this report is a wake-up call. The institution needs to recognise that this problem is real and not an abstract issue of the sector. This can only be resolved if the conversation is led by BAME students.’
Goldsmiths Students’ Union will be holding an open meeting to discuss the experiences of BAME students in the wake of this report. The meeting is open to all, and invitations have been extended to senior management as well as to staff from across the University. The meeting will be held on January 31st from 1pm to 3pm in RHB 143. More information here.
To read the full report, click here.
Words, Imogen Hector, Nahida Abdulhamid & Joe Williams