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Only half of black and minority ethnic students achieved top degrees in the UK last year, compared with more than 70 per cent of white students.
A study by the Equality Challenge Unit found that the attainment gap is particularly pronounced in England and among mature students.
Equality in higher education: statistical report 2013, shows that in England there was an 18.5 percentage point difference between the proportion of black and minority students achieving Firsts and 2:1s compared to white students. In Wales the percentage point gap was 10.5, in Scotland it was 9.1, and in Northern Ireland it was just 4.4.
The findings, drawn from the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s student and staff records, also show there was a 26.3 percentage point difference between the proportion of mature black or minority ethnic students achieving a First or 2:1 and their white mature peers – while the difference was only 8.6 percentage points for students aged 21 or younger.
The attainment gap has also widened since 2003/04. While the proportion of black and ethnic minority students achieving at least a 2:1 rose by 7.9 percentage points from 2003/04 to 2011/12, the proportion of white students achieving the same increased by 8.4 percentage points.
The ECU report also provides an overview of equality issues among higher education staff, showing that white men still dominate senior positions. The study found that 68.8 per cent of senior academic managers are white men, and 15.9 per cent of white male academics are professors, compared with less than 3 per cent of black and minority ethnic female academics.
David Ruebain, chief executive of the ECU, said: “Higher education institutions should recognise that they may not be fully supporting some groups of students or staff to achieve - which could potentially impact on the recruitment and results of students, the development of staff, and the overall reputation of the institution.”
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