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Ross Renton, Principal of ARU Peterborough, questions ministers’ approach to defending free speech on campus, but welcomes their efforts to outlaw essay mills.

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Higher education consultant Jon Scott reviews a week in which the hearts of those working in HE may have been set racing for all the wrong reasons.

New policy papers prompt contrasting views on the way ahead for HE

Rhiannon Birch, Director of Strategic Insights and Planning at the University of Derby, observes how the recent deluge of HE policy papers has brought contrasting reactions and opinions on how the sector should engage with government proposals.

Study finds fewer Muslim students gain First or 2:1 degrees

A study has found substantial differences in degree attainment by students' religion or belief.

A report on the findings from Advance HE is the first of its kind to examine this area. Religion and belief became one of nine protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010, yet there has been little research done into the impact of this on students since then.

The research was made possible by new requirements from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, introduced in the 2017-18 academic year, which made the return of data about students' religion and belief mandatory. The report uses data collected from over two million HE students.

It shows that while overall, 76.3 per cent of students received a first or 2:1 degree, only 64.9 per cent of Muslim students received this level of award.

At institutions with over 12 per cent of students identifying as Muslim, the attainment gap was eight percentage points, compared to 19 percentage points at institutions with fewer than 3.5 per cent of Muslim students.

HESA statistics show around half of all students reported having a religion or belief. The majority of these were Christian (65.5 per cent), followed by Muslim students (17.8 per cent).

The figures show that while men are underrepresented in UK HE, with overall 57 per cent of students being women, this split was not present in all religious groups. For Hindu and Muslim students, the gender split of people in HE was close to 50:50. In contrast, over two-thirds of students identifying as Spiritual were women.

A gender attainment gap was present within all religious groups, however, with women graduating with a first or 2:1 degree in higher numbers than men.

Gary Loke, Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE, said: "This first-of-its-kind report fills a massive gap in research into student equality in higher education and is a positive step forward for the sector.

"With this report, institutions are now better able to take evidence-informed steps to address inequalities, target initiatives at underrepresented groups more effectively and go further down the path towards equity of student outcomes.

"Advance HE will continue to work with the sector to improve outcomes for students, regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity or identity."

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