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Why are white students still outperforming minorities in the UK?

Graduation day paints a different picture if your not white, study shows Source: shutterstock.com

International students make up a vital part of the academic community in the UK, both in numbers and perspective, but new data show they are not performing as well as their white peers.

Data released by the Office for Students show that 60 percent of black students and 72 percent of Asian students graduate with a First-Class (1:1) or Upper Second-Class Honours (2:1). This is compared to 82 percent of white students.

The grade gap between white students and their peers has decreased by one percentile between 2013/14 and 2015/16, which begs the question: why are white students still outperforming their other classmates? And what can be done to resolve this?

Chris Millward, director for access and participation in the Office for Students, explained in Op-Ed for The Guardian: “The gaps exist for a number of reasons. Students’ sense of belonging is affected by the inclusivity of curricula and learning, teaching and assessment practices, the relationships between majority and minority groups of students, and the different profiles of staff and students.

“There are also differences in how students from different backgrounds and with different identities experience university life, engage with learning and turn to external support.”

According to a report by the Russell Group, international students are valued by the UK’s top universities. They create a diverse tapestry of opinions that everyone can learn from.

However, Millward notes feelings of alienation and homesickness may prevent students from overseas reaching their potential.

Reports of daily racism and concerns universities are not effectively tackling discrimination on campus help to fill in the blanks left by the data.

While white students are reading in the library, making notes during lectures and revising for exams, minority students are trying to find their identity amidst a backdrop of daily discrimination.

Millward claims that the Office for Students will be putting pressure on universities to understand the issues facing minority students and help them to create practical, evidence-based strategies to combat this.

“Universities charging the maximum GB£9,250 (US$13,070) [tuition] fee [will have] to submit clear, evidence-based plans that go beyond improving access for underrepresented groups to improving their degree outcomes,” wrote Millward.

The Office for Students will also provide universities with better data to help them understand what struggles specific students face and help them develop effective strategies to limit these potential setbacks.

“I do not underestimate the challenge of tackling such ingrained and long-standing issues, wrote Millward.

“But this is a thorn we must grasp if we are to reduce the differential outcomes in the data published today and give every student the life-changing opportunity they deserve.”

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