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Improving the Degree Attainment of BME Students – Start-up Meeting HEA, York 11th March 2009 Challenging Assumptions about BME students and differential.

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Presentation on theme: "Improving the Degree Attainment of BME Students – Start-up Meeting HEA, York 11th March 2009 Challenging Assumptions about BME students and differential."— Presentation transcript:

1 Improving the Degree Attainment of BME Students – Start-up Meeting HEA, York 11th March 2009 Challenging Assumptions about BME students and differential degree attainment Professor Glynis Cousin, Director, Institute for Learning Enhancement, University of Wolverhampton. Dr Gurnam Singh, Teaching Development Fellow, Centre for the Study of Higher Education, Coventry University 1

2 Session aim: To bridge the divide between research, policy and practice in relation to BME degree attainment by: 1.Raising some of the conceptual challenges associated with diversity 2.Examining alternative explanations for differential degree attainment and implications for policy and practice 3.Enabling participants to reflect upon their own and their institutional approach to the issue. 2

3 What is the problem? If you belong to a visible minority you are more likely to perform less well than a white student in HE. Despite controlling for other factors which impact on attainment, we find that ethnicity is still statistically significant in explaining attainment in HE: all students from minority ethnic communities … are found to be less likely to achieve a better degree relative to White UK & Irish students – and this result holds at all levels of attainment. (Broecke and Nicholls (2007:17) 3

4 However, the picture is quite confusing!! Fielding et al (2008) looking at NSS 2006 data and HESA data used by Broecke and Nicholls (2007) uncover some interesting differences: Entry Qualification: Some indication that lower entry qualification can influence achievement but varies across disciplines. Also, for BME students with A Level only entry, achievements are a little higher. Age: Net gap between various BME groups and White students is much wider for mature students with Bangladeshi and Chinese students faring the worst. Gender: Some indication that BME males do less well than females Residence: Net gap in achievement between various Asian groups and White students is narrower for those students living at home. Deprivation: Some evidence of small but significant impact. Indeed, for areas of high deprivation gab between BME students and their white peers narrows and possibly reverses! Type of Institution: Broadly speaking the higher the proportion of BME students the higher the differential - Blacks out perform Whites in institutions with low numbers of BME students! Source: Fielding, A et al (2008) 4

5 Why is the picture confusing? Problem with ethnic categorisation. Categories can not really tell us anything about individual experience. Focussing on categories and student achievement/performance may actually take our attention away from institutional structures and pedagogical practices Reduces the historical struggle of justice and equality (political and pedagogical) to an endless wild goose chase for the absolute truth. We can get lost in the numbers game. We need to find a way forward that moves us beyond a complete reliance on positivistic approaches to more action orientated research. 5

6 6 What can focussing on diversity and ethnicity in HE lead to? Increased bureaucracy - becomes part of the performance/audit /tick box/paper trail culture – can lead to: –Displacement - struggle for justice becomes a struggle to look good and/or damage limitation –Dissipation - of commitment and energy from tackling the problem to endless analysis –De-politicisation – The oppositionary and potentially divisive discourse of social justice and rights becomes transmuted into a technical challenge of managing diversity A feel-good factor - marketing tool showcasing of diversity successes where diversity becomes synonymous with the presence of BMEs....adds spice and colour to mainstream white culture. (Ahmed (2007:246) A feel-bad factor – if it has the effect of exposing inequality, injustice then it could lead to anger and recrimination.

7 The Challenge of Super Diversity 20% of ALL children belong to an ethnic minority In terms of mixed marriages we see the following stats: –50% Black Caribbean Men –20% Black African men, –10% Indian men and women –40% Chinese women. Since 1995 the number of children of Caribbean heritage with one white parent has risen from 39% to 49%. Among the Indian population it has increased from 3% to 11%, for Pakistanis from 1% to 4%, and for Chinese from 15% to 35%. (Platt, 2009) 7

8 The Challenge of Super Diversity Continued... Britain can now be characterised by super-diversity, a notion intended to underline a level and kind of complexity surpassing anything the country has previously experienced. Such a condition is distinguished by a dynamic interplay of variables among an increased number of new, small and scattered, multiple-origin, transnationally connected, socio-economically differentiated and legally stratified immigrants who have arrived over the last decade (Vertovec, 2006:1) For example, among Somalis in the UK – and in any single locality – we will find British citizens, refugees, asylum-seekers, persons granted exceptional leave to remain, undocumented migrants, and people granted refugee status in another European country but who subsequently moved to Britain. A simple ethnicity- focused approach to understanding and engaging minority groups in Britain, as taken in many models and policies within conventional multiculturalism, is inadequate and often inappropriate... (ibid:17) 8

9 Why do BME students do less well than white students i.e. how can we explain the gap in degree attainment? If we assume that the statistics are in fact highlighting a phenomena, then we can posit 2 broad hypothesis to explain the causes. –It is due to individual factors –It is due to structural factors Each one of these can be examined in terms of essentialist and constructivist conceptions of BME students 9

10 10 Essentialist and Constructionist conceptions of BME and White students - The tale of the three umpires, Cantril cited in Henshel and Silverman, 1975) Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as they are! Somes balls and somes strikes, but they aint nothing till I calls em! Somes balls and somes strikes, and I call em as I sees em!

11 They have distorted expectations of their ability Poor Literacy Poor entry qualifications Laziness Poor attitude to studying Poor attendance Low/unrealistic family expectations More likely to cheat! They are more likely to be caught /penalised for cheating? They are more likely to be marked down or misunderstood by tutors. As the primary medium is English they are more likely to experience problems. They are more likely to be isolated and form low performing sub-cultures Lacking motivation and/or self confidence Tutors are likely to have lower expectations – Pygmalion affect More likely to miss class/seminars and not participate in extra curricular activities They possess less cultural and/or social capital They are likely to be more alienated from the system/university They are more likely to belong to/form low performing sub cultures. All aspects of teaching, learning, assessment, student support are built upon hidden and unacknowledged white norms and cultural expectations. An inverse student support law operates whereby those that need the most support get the least and vice versa. All students enter university as individuals but are othered i.e. They become constructed (explicitly and tacitly) into BME (low performing) and non BME (high performing) students. Explanations for BME underachievement in Degree Attainment 11 Structural Individual Essentialist Anti- Essentialist

12 Challenging assumptions about BME students and differential degree attainment Group Work Task For each of the 4 broad explanations for the gap in degree attainment, consider briefly: How plausible it this explanation? Why might this be happening? How does this compare to my institutions perspective? What are the implications and challenges for: –research? –policy? –practice? 12


14 References Ahmed, S (2007) The Language of Diversity, in, Ethnic and Racial Studies. Vol. 30 No.2 March 2007 pp Broecke, S. and Nicholls, T. (2007), Ethnicity and Degree Attainment, Department for Education and Skills Research Report RW92. Available from: Fielding, A et al (2008) Degree attainment, ethnicity and gender: Interactions and the modification of effects - A quantitative analysis. University of Birmingham and Centre for Multilevel Modeling, University of Bristol Report_March08.pdf Report_March08.pdf Henshel, R. L., & Silverman., R.A Perceptions in Criminology. New York: Columbia University Press. Lucinda Platt (2009) Ethnicity and family Relationships within and between ethnic groups: An analysis using the Labour Force Survey. Equality and Human Rights Commission/Institute for Social and Economic research, University of Essex. elationships.aspx elationships.aspx Steven Vertovec (2006) The Emergence of Super-Diversity in Britain, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society. Working Paper No. 25,University of Oxford, pdf 625.pdf 14

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