Addressing the attainment gap: business schools can lead the way by providing an inclusive approach to the student experience
Universities celebrate diversity and an inclusive approach to education but, not all students achieve the same outcomes, despite joining programmes with comparable qualifications. Attainment gaps can, of course, emerge for many reasons, but there are major concerns relating to the attainment gap between groups of students that display different characteristics (HEFCE, 2018), including demographics and types of entry qualifications. One thing is certain: the inequalities faced by ethnic minorities are “everyone’s responsibility” (Everett, 2019:1). This article focuses mainly on the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) attainment gap, which is currently receiving significant attention.
The experience shared will feature a national project, part-funded by HEFCE/OfS and led by Kingston University. The University of Greenwich’s contribution to the project focuses on how we can implement strategies to close the gap, and here we will focus on the projects within the Business School. At the University of Greenwich, approximately 50% of our students are from BAME backgrounds, making this a strategically and ethically important issue for us to address.
Kingston University has led the way in this area and have shared their good practice with others wishing to address similar issues (McDuff et al., 2018). Kingston’s method for determining the attainment gap emerged from this original project, and takes the form of a value-added (VA) calculation. This calculation identifies areas that require attention, and that also tracks the progress institutions are making. The metric uses students' entry qualifications and subjects studied (the two commonly cited factors related to under achievement) to generate sector-wide benchmarks of the proportion of students who are expected to achieve a good degree outcome. The proportion of our students who are awarded a 1st or 2:1 degree classification are then compared with the sector benchmarks which are set to 1. A positive difference between our metric and the sector benchmark shows value added.
In Diagram 1 you can see how the University of Greenwich replicated the Kingston VA dashboard for the Business School, showing the value we add to many of our students. However, Diagram 1 also shows that when you drill down into the data, an attainment gap for BAME students exists, although in differing degrees according to discipline. (It is important to note that the right-hand annex would normally state the the names of departments, these have been removed). There are two bars, one for the white students and one for the BAME students, for each of the five departments. The differing width of the bars for the white and BAME students indicate the relative numbers of students in the population.
Diagram 1: Extract of the value-added metric for five departments in the Business School.
Source: VA dashboard, Greenwich
The Business School recognises that each discipline has its own unique issues regarding attainment gaps that expand further than the BAME group of students; for example, white male working class students, and a large cohort of final year direct entry international students from China, who must also be considered (Reilly et al., 2019). This year we supported each department to have an inclusivity champion to benefit the University-wide project and embed it in the School’s own daily work. The champions presented their projects to the faculty at the Business School’s Learning and Teaching Festival. Each department has focused on attainment gap issues that are relevant to them. For example, we have projects to:
- adapt the content of modules to ensure the examples and texts we use are inclusive of, and relatable for, our student population (using student curriculum advisors in some cases);
- review our assessment and marking criteria to ensure content reflects our student cohort and that the language is accessible to all;
- review the ways in which we deliver formative feedback to encourage participation in formative tasks by all students; and
- provide additional opportunities for social learning, by extending the use of the Team Based Learning approach on core courses (we have piloted this approach and reduced the performance gap).
Other projects focus on improving outcomes for specific groups of students, such as:
- expanding our pool of mentors for female Muslim students, ones who they can relate to; and
- enhancing the social capital of direct entry Chinese students.
We are not in a position to share the results to evidence the outcomes of these interventions because they are part of a longitudinal project. However, as the first stage of the BAME project comes to an end we will be in a position where we can modify the value-added dashboard based on the feedback from colleagues. One of the pieces of functionality we are looking to add is to allow a user to filter the module data to separate students who are overseas fee paying, this will allow us to separate some of the variables that can contribute to the attainment gap.
Many of our ideas emerged from sharing examples of good practice across the sector at events such as a recent webinar for Business Schools which, again, featured colleagues from Kingston, De Montfort, Greenwich Hertfordshire, Wolverhampton, and UCL. As a Business School we have a faculty that are also wonderfully diverse, so we are well positioned to learn from one another. Our focus on the attainment gap has provided the impetus to look at what we do and how we do it, and we are in a period of encouraging a varied and creative approach to the issue. Going forward we need to ensure that our approach does not become siloed within individual modules, programmes or departments, but that we maintain a community of practice where these issues can be addressed as a collective. We know we have a significant amount of work still to undertake in this area, but it is time to face and address this attainment gap, so we can truly celebrate our diverse and inclusive approach to Business Education and lead the way in our institutions.
By Dr Liz Warren and Dr Dawn Reilly, Business School, University of Greenwich
Everett, S. (2019) Tackling inequality for BAME students and staff in business schools. https://charteredabs.org/tackling-inequality-for-bame-students-and-staff-in-business-schools/ accessed 22/06/19
HEFCE (2018). Understanding and addressing differential student outcomes. [online] Available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20180103171930/http://www.hefce.ac.uk/sas/inequality/differential/ accessed 24/04/18
McDuff, N., Tatam, J., Beacock, O and Ross, F. (2018). Closing the gap for students from black and minority ethnic background through institutional change. Widening participation and lifelong learning. 20(1), pp.79-101.
Reilly, D., Sun, H., Vellam, I. and Warren, L. (2019). Creating conditions for student success – tools and frameworks that address student attainment gaps. Compass.12(1).