Bridge the Gap

What is the degree awarding gap?

The degree awarding gap, sometimes called the attainment gap, is the difference between the percentage UK Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic and White students who are awarded a first or 2:1 degree.

The latest 5-year dataset from the Office for Students, for all English Higher Education (HE) providers, highlights the variable yet persistent nature of the attainment gap. In 2015-16, 81.1% of White students were awarded a first or 2:1, compared to 57.3% of Black students, revealing a gap of 23.8 percentage points (pp). While this gap has shown a decrease to 18.4 pp in 2019-20, a significant gap remains.

A bar chart showing all English Higher Education Providers' awards from 2015 to 2019 according to ethnicity. It displays an upward trend of students across all ethnicities who gained a 2:1 or 1st class degree, in 2019-20 the significant differences still remain where 86.2% of White students were awarded a 2:1 or 1st class degree, compared to 83% of mixed race, 78.8% of Asian, 76.6% of other ethnicity, and 68.2% of Black students.

How does LJMU compare to the rest of the UK?

Liverpool John Moores University is no exception to the HE sector. Our awarding gap is also significant and persistent.

The following bar chart shows LJMU degree awards, by ethnicity, for 2019-20. The data shows that 83% of White students were awarded a 1st Class or 2:1 degree, compared to 75% of Asian students, 63% of Black students, 79% of mixed race students and 80% of other ethnicity students.

Stacked bar chart showing LJMU degree awards, by ethnicity, for 2019-20 showing that a greater proportion of White students were awarded 2:1 or 1st class degrees than Black, Asian, mixed race and other ethnicities.

What are LJMU doing about it?

To understand the factors behind the awarding gap at LJMU, an inter-departmental council (The Attainment Gap Council) has been created. Through this, a project team has been assembled, comprised of academic staff, institutional researchers, and importantly, current LJMU students have been employed as student-researchers. The outcomes of this project will be a toolkit of interventions and resources aimed at closing the awarding gap.

There are four main elements to the project:

Faq Items

1. Statistical exploration of the phenomenon

Part one comprises interrogation of institutional attainment data across all levels of study for all undergraduate, first degree, home students by ethnicity, type of assessment and subject, to explore differences in attainment. The analysis will consider confounding factors such as entry qualification and tariff points etc. Where statistically significant differences are detected, this shall help to focus qualitative exploration of these issues.

2. Qualitative data on LJMU BAME students lived experience (developing mentoring model)

Part two is focused on understanding the ‘lived’ student experience at university, including what challenges they face in their day-to-day studies (progression) and how the curriculum, university environment and teaching and assessment approaches at LJMU affect their performance. 

Assessment and surrounding factors including perceptions of feedback (summative and formative), understanding of assessment criteria/standards, timeline (organisation and preparation), use of peer- support and personal tutor support, and other factors will be explored via an institutional survey for all students, and in-depth interviews and focus groups, facilitated by student-researchers for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic students.

Student-researchers and mentors will receive training and help to develop a mentoring programme to help their fellow students to succeed in their studies.

3. Gathering staff perceptions on assessment approaches and strategies

Part three examines the perception of academic staff on the role of assessment and feedback strategy in helping students demonstrate the achievement of learning outcomes. This will take place through semi-structured interviews with programme leaders selected for the case studies.

The interviews will include practice-focused discussions on different approaches and assessment processes. 

4. Data analysis, generation of reports, recourses, and mentoring toolkit

The outcomes of the project will include a range of resources:

  • A report on statistical findings and implication for practice
  • A map of student journey (an interactive map - resource for students)
  • Mentoring toolkit/materials and resources
  • Student Researcher and mentors will pilot the mentoring toolkit with their mentees and gather feedback on its effectiveness. The intention is to develop a protocol for mentoring that can be implemented and further developed after the project is completed, which, if successful, could be rolled out across the institution.

How can you be involved?

  • If you are a member of LJMU staff who would like to be involved or know more about this research, please contact Dr. Elena Zaitseva (e.zitseva@ljmu.ac.uk).
  • If you are an LJMU student who would like to be involved or know more about this research, please contact Dr. Emma Smith (e.l.smith@ljmu.ac.uk).

Meet the team!

Meet the team

From top-left to bottom-right:  Anna John, Atif Waraich, Loredana Frau, Kat Gibby, Mwaka Nanyangwe, Deshan Premasiri, Elena Zaitseva, Ana Galdamez Pesantes, Reda Madroumi, Phil Carey, Shivaan Ghaderi, Olatunde Durowoju, Nina Pal, Emma Smith. Colleague not pictured: Mashal Safi.