Race Equality

Within UK Higher Education there has been a long-standing awareness of a gap between the percentage of white students achieving a first or upper second class degree (2i) compared to the percentage of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students achieving a first or 2i degree (Broecke and Nicholls, 2007; Berry and Loke, 2011; Equality Challenge Unit, 2017). Broecke and Nicholls’ (2007) report,  Office for Students analysis (Office for Students, 2018) and Value Added data (Closing Attainment Gap, 2019) demonstrated that even after controlling for the main factors one might expect to influence attainment, such as prior entry qualifications, type of prior institution, parental attributes and language, there remains a statistically significant gap in attainment between white students and students from minority ethnic backgrounds.

With over 18,000 undergraduate students, of whom almost 60% are from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic backgrounds, we have been working to reduce the degree differential for a number of years.


Project / Institutional Activity


Higher Education Academy Summit Programme


Higher Education Academy Inclusive Cultures Project


Institutional commitment: Equality Objective “to reduce the BAME attainment gap by 10 percentage points”


Higher Education Academy Cross Institutional project with Wolverhampton and Kingston Universities


Institutional commitment: Equality Objective “Continue to work towards reducing the differential in degree attainment between White and BAME students”


HEFCE/OFS funded collaborative project to use Value Added Scores and Inclusive curriculum discussions to drive change


Leadership Foundation project on Academic leadership at the programme level to address the BAME attainment gap


Learning and Teaching Innovation Award to appoint BAME Student Advocates

2018 onwards

Institutional funding of our BAME student Advocates


Institutional commitment: in the Strategic Plan 2020-2025 “to reduce the BAME awarding gap by 50% with annual Access and Participation (APP) targets to meet until 2025

The early Higher Education Academy projects (2009, 2011) helped us to develop our arguments and provide evidence to senior members of the University. It was very important that the University did not take a deficit approach - this was not an ‘issue’ of our students, this was about our policies/processes/practices and culture and hence we now refer to the degree differential as an ‘awarding gap’ and not an ‘attainment gap’.

A number of our research projects have informed our race equality work including:

  • Office for Students funded collaborative project ‘Using a value-added (VA) metric and an inclusive curriculum framework to address the Black and minority ethnic attainment gap’ (£500K).  https://closingtheattainmentgap.co.uk/
  • Leadership Foundation funded project (£8K) ‘Academic Leadership at the programme level to address the BAME attainment gap’ enabling the development of 11 case studies which were published by Advance HE (2018) and disseminated nationally via the UUK and NUS report (2019 (PDF - 1.91 Mb)). (Barefoot et.al, 2018).
  • Learning and Teaching Innovation award (£7K) - BAME Student Advocate programme. Student advocates are employed to; facilitate focus groups; represent BAME students; challenge assumptions; and critique curricula as well as to promote race equality (Barefoot and Boons, 2018). Their excellent work has been recognised internally via Hertfordshire Students’ Union (HSU) awards, and the Vice Chancellor’s Award (2019) – ‘Team of the Year’  (Highly Commended) as well as nationally through a Collaborative Award in Teaching Excellence (2021).  It has been particularly rewarding to support the students’ individual leadership through working with them as co-presenters at conferences (e.g. UUK 2019, UH 2019) and the co-authoring of a peer reviewed article (Barefoot and Boons, 2019).
  • Impact on researchers and facilitators of work to address awarding gaps (Barefoot et.al, 2019)

Through our work we have developed materials, resources, staff development workshops and student-staff partnership approaches to reduce the awarding gap and advance race equality.

Activities to reduce the awarding gap include:

Inclusive teaching

Student-Staff partnership to advance race equality

  • Discussion with BAME students to better understand their experiences at UH
  • Employment of BAME Student Advocates
  • BAME Student Advocates working with staff to critique curricular

Consideration of the graduate employability of our BAME students

  • Promoting BAME diversity employer schemes to students
  • Promoting BAME friendly employers
  • Ensuring recruitment panels are representative of our student body
  • Positive action statement for employers
  • Identification of mentoring schemes and scholarships
  • Finding and researching role models
  • Advice to employers

Staff development (approximate attendance figures)

  • Inclusive practice workshops for programme teams, schools, and professional units (700)
  • Unconscious bias workshops (500)
  • Learning and Teaching conference (2013) themed around BAME student success (200)
  • Inclusion of BAME awarding gaps and inclusive teaching within PGCertLTHE programme (500)

In the University’s Strategic Plan, 2020-2025 we made a commitment to reduce the BAME awarding gap by 50%, with annual Access and Participation Plan (APP) targets to meet until 2025. In order to ensure we hit this challenging target we developed and launched our BAME Institutional Action Plan in September 2020, comprised of bespoke equality actions designed to reduce the BAME awarding gap, developed in conjunction with staff and students from across the University. The Action Plan reflects the need to take a whole University approach to tackling factors influencing awarding gaps, from the Board of Governors and Chief Executive’s Group, Academic Schools and individual members of staff.

The work carried out to date has already had a tangible impact on the BAME awarding gap, reducing from 20 percentage points in 2018/19 to 15 percentage points in 2019/20 and to 12 percentage points in 2020/21.