Reducing the gender and ethnicity attainment gap

The university actively promotes an inclusive culture in teaching and learning, and it is important to ensure that we continue to reflect on the needs of our diverse student community particularly students with English as an Additional Language (EAL), black and minority ethnic groups (BME), care leavers, students with disabilities and males from lower socio–economic backgrounds (aka white working class boys (WWCB) who can be at risk of under-attainment.

While the numbers of students receiving a first or 2:1 have increased over the last 8 years, there continues to be a considerable gap between the proportion of white British students receiving these classifications compared to UK-domiciled students from minority ethnic groups (Runnymede Trust, 2015). This attainment gap has remained nearly static over the last ten years.

Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, in guidance to the Director of Fair Access (published in 2016) requested HEIs to set targets for students from disadvantaged backgrounds; specifically students from BME, WWCB and students with disabilities and learning difficulties. 

Unpicking the black attainment gap provides up-to-date data on the black and Asian student attainment gap (Wonkhe, August 2017). 

University information and learning programmes on equality, diversity and inclusion

General University information

Equality, diversity and inclusion main University pages

Equality, diversity and inclusion staff pages (login required) provides links to:

  • Harassment, bullying and intimidation advice for staff and students.
  • Equality analysis and University of Plymouth Equality Scheme Targets
Staff development opportunities:

E-Learning (staff login required): 

  • Equality and diversity: diversity in the workplace.
  • Unconscious bias.
Inter-cultural communication: Understanding and overcoming differences, facilitated by Ricky Lowes of the International Centre.

Relevant 7 steps series guides to help plan and teach effectively:

Additional  resources

Inclusive teaching, learning and assessment: includes research-informed resources, guidance and videos. Some of the student videos include the experience of international students.

Online self-assessment tool for University of Plymouth staff and students. This tool is available in the DLE. It evaluates students’ early engagement with learning. It provides automated feedback, helping to identify students at risk and directing them to appropriate resources and sources of support.

Use the peer review process and the Personal Development Review process to focus on equality, diversity and the attainment gap.

External guidance and resources

Race Equality Toolkit to assist staff designing for and embedding race equality in their learning and teaching. Sections of particular interest are:

Embedding equality and diversity in the curriculum discipline specific practitioner guides from the Higher Education Academy provide practicable guidance on embedding equality and diversity in learning and teaching. The subjects covered are: art and design, classics, education, physical sciences, and social work.

Equality and diversity in learning and teaching in HE: compendium of papers. Selected papers from a joint conference held by Equality Challenge Unit and the Higher Education Academy.

The Ethnicity Attainment Gap;  pages 89-131.  Research and examples of good practice from many HEIs, University of Sheffield 2016.

The Amos Bursary was set up to redress the under representation of young British men of African and Caribbean descent in higher education and in the professions. Amos provides the support to ensure each student moves from potential to performance.

White working class males in British higher education - Pre and post entry perspectives. Southern Universities Network. March 2017. Research and advice from nine southern universities.

  • Post entry findings, page 44 (University of Portsmouth).
  • Implications and recommendations, pages 60-63.
  • Supporting attainment, pages 64-68.

Institutional racism in Higher Education: Building the anti-racist university: a toolkit. Funded by HEFCE, this resource was produced by the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies (ERS) using the University of Leeds as a case study. The toolkit provides conceptual and methodological resources from which practitioners can select the most appropriate ones to implement in their institutions. Section four ‘anti-racist strategies’ seems particularly useful and within it, sections 

  • '4.3 Equal opportunities in the HEI’ 
  • ‘4.5 Student recruitment, support and transition to employment’
  • ‘4.6 Teaching and learning’

De Montfort University run the ’Dare to Be Mentored’ Scheme with an aim to reduce the black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) attainment gap.

Athena SWAN: Good Practice Initiatives on gender equality


Berry, J., and Loke, G. (2011) Improving the degree attainment of black and minority ethnic students. Equality Challenge Unit / The Higher Education Academy.

Cotton, D.R.E, George, R., Joyner, M. (2013) The Gender and Ethnicity Attainment Gap Research Project. Plymouth: Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory, Plymouth University. : A comparative analysis.

Cotton, D.R.E., Joyner, M., George R. and Cotton, P.A. (2015) Understanding the gender and ethnicity attainment gap in UK higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 53(5), pp 475-486.

Gale, N. and Ward, N. (2017) LGBTQ-inclusivity in the higher education curriculum: a best practice guide. Birmingham: University of Birmingham.

Hillman, N. and Robinson, N. (2016) From Boys to Men: The underachievement of young men in higher education – and how to start tackling it. HEPI Report 84. Oxford: Higher Education Policy Institute.

Letter of Guidance from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Minister of State for Universities and Science to the Director of Fair Access, February 2016, p.14.

Miller, M. (2016) The Ethnicity Attainment Gap: Literature Review. Sheffield: The University of Sheffield, Widening Participation Research & Evaluation Unit.

Morgan, W. (nd) Ethnicity and Degree Attainment: Why the higher education section can no longer ignore the attainment gap. Power Point Presentation. London: University of East London.

Richardson, J.T.E. The under-attainment of ethnic minority students in UK higher education: what we know and what we don’t know. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 39(2), pp 278-291.

Southern Universities Network (2017)  White Working Class Males in British Higher Education - Pre and post entry perspectives.

SOAS Students’ Union (2016) Degrees of Racism: a qualitative investigation into ethnicity attainment gaps at SOAS. London: School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Students’ Union.

Stevenson, J. (2012) Black and minority ethnic student degree retention and attainment Jacqueline Stevenson (2012). York: The Higher Education Academy.