further & higher education

Closing the Attainment Gap for BAME Students Across Higher Education

further & higher education

08:45 - 16:20

Thursday 28 November 2019

Events @N. 6, Central London


This Forum will provide attendees with the opportunity to discuss effective methods for closing the attainment gap for BAME students across the higher education sector. Participants will hear about the latest guidance on ensuring that universities are improving the experience for BAME students. In addition to this, best practice case studies will share innovative methods of closing the attainment gap for BAME students through the creation of inclusive learning environments and tailored support programmes. 


This Forum is specifically designed for the Higher Education sector. Typical job titles include:

  • Pro-Vice-Chancellors
  • Associate Deans
  • Equality and Diversity Officers
  • Retention Managers
  • Heads of Student Engagement and Retention
  • Heads of Student Admissions and Success
  • Department Heads
  • Academic Support Officers
  • Access Managers
  • Widening Participation Managers
  • Senior Lecturers
  • Heads of Department

The forum is also open to the Private and Voluntary Sector to encourage debate.

Key Speakers Confirmed:
  • Fope Olaleye, Black Students Officer, National Union of Students (NUS)
  • Aloma Onyemah, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sheffield Hallam University
  • Deborah Husbands, Senior Lecturer, University of Westminster
  • Joan O’Mahony, Senior Advisor, Advance HE
View the agenda and additional speakers

The number of BAME students entering higher education has increased by 50% since 2007. However, the attainment gap between black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BAME) students and their counterparts continues to be too wide with only 53% of BAME students graduating with a first class or 2:1 degree in comparison to 78% of white students.

In order to tackle this growing problem, NUS and Universities UK launched a nationwide inquiry to discover the extent of the problem within the UK’s higher education sector. This report, published in May 2019, was entitled Black, Asian and minority ethnic student attainment at UK universities: #ClosingtheGap and set out five key steps that universities should be taking to improve the BAME student experience and close the attainment gap. These five key steps include the following;

  • Providing Strong Leadership
  • Having conversations about race and changing cultures
  • Developing racially diverse and inclusive higher education environments
  • Obtaining evidence and analysing data on the attainment gap
  • Understanding what works when it comes to improving BAME student attainment and experience

The Office for Students has also set out a target for eliminating the attainment gap for BAME students by 2024/2025. This ambitious target will ensure that universities are taking urgent action to tackle the differences in degree outcomes for white and black students, although many of the barriers to equality are deeply entrenched within the university experience. With the Office for Students now having the power to fine or penalise institutions that fail to deliver changes that are in the best interest of the student, it is becoming vital that universities are taking swift action to target the BAME attainment gap. Additionally, the OfS have the power to ensure that improvements are being made to increase the access to higher education for disadvantaged groups, such as BAME students.  Universities should also be focussing on ensuring all parts of the university life foster equality between students, including decolonising the curriculum and understanding religious needs.

It is imperative that universities are taking vital steps towards providing an inclusive and equal environment for all students. Higher education institutions can play a key role in reducing the extensive inequalities that exist within society and without taking bold steps to reduce these systemic inequalities, BAME students will not be able to reach their full potential.

Dr Helen Barefoot, Deputy Director of the Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre (LTIC), University of Hertfordshire

Helen Barefoot is the Deputy Director of the Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre (LTIC) where she leads continuing professional development (CPD) for academic staff. Her research is centred on inclusive teaching and student success. With a specific interest in reducing the attainment gap between White and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students, Helen works to improve policies, processes and teaching practices. Through her work in the LTIC, Helen has also published articles and book chapters on assessment and feedback, learning and teaching scholarship within the disciplines and quality assurance and quality enhancement of the student experience.

Rama Hilouneh, Vice President (Education and Democracy), University of Portsmouth Students' Union

My name is Rama Hilouneh, Vice-President of Education & Democracy at the University of Portsmouth Students’ Union. My area of study is Law with International Relations, so I am very intrigued in the policies introduced by the government and the effects it has on the university sector, filtered down to individual students. My main focus for my sabbatical year is understanding the factors that affect the BAME attainment gap, and the different methods which could be introduced to reduce the gap. My background, originally born in Syria, and spending my childhood and adolescence in Hounslow, West London, enabled me to see the barriers of those who are socio-economically deprived and the struggle they felt attaining good grades and fitting in to the elitist communities of university.

Dr Mary McKeever, Principal Lecturer, University of Portsmouth

I got my first academic post in 1988 at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg My task was to set up a programme to improve the transition, sense of belonging, academic achievement and progression into the professions of the first cohorts of black students to enter an historically white university. While the conditions are different, there are many parallels with the patterns of entry into higher education and the differential outcomes of different student groups in UK higher education. I have written about the gap between postcolonial theory and the lived experience of migration and its impact on education and on the ethics of conducting research in a postcolonial context. I have an interest in the ways in which academic staff and students can work together to decolonise the curriculum in creative and innovative ways to the benefit of all. From 2017-2019 I was the Portsmouth lead on the OfS –funded Raising Awareness, Raising Aspiration (RARA) project with The University of Sheffield and King’s College London. At Portsmouth every student has a personal tutor and all staff who teach are personal tutors and through our work on the project we used technology and data to link up our 23,000 students with the personal tutors; we appointed Senior Tutors in all schools and working with our partners, we completely transformed the CPD available for personal tutors to address the attainment gap on an individual and departmental basis.

Owen Beacock, BME Attainment Gap Institutional KPI Manager, Kingston University

Owen is an ex-professional sailor turned sustainability professional with extensive experience of working internationally on environmental and social challenges.

Having lived and travelled internationally over an 18-year period Owen has witnessed the stark reality of both the social inequalities present in today’s global society and the devastating environmental impact of its economic growth.

Since returning to the UK in 2014, Owen has turned his attention to the social challenge of differential attainment within Higher Education, challenging traditional convention to attainment gaps and championing a metric driven approach to change management within academia.


Registration, Refreshments, and Networking


Chair's Welcome Address

Deborah Husbands, Senior Lecturer, University of Westminster (CONFIRMED)


Morning Keynote: Addressing equality and justice in student access, retention, success and progression

  • Exploring the key findings from the 2019 report Understanding and overcoming the challenges of targeting students from under-represented and disadvantaged ethnic backgrounds, 
  • Highlighting the need for greater coordination across the stages of the student ‘lifecycle’ – to, through, and beyond HE
  • Understanding the variation of retention and attainment across the disciplines, and the need for discipline-informed approaches to closing degree awarding gaps
  • Outlining the importance of planning, coordination and leadership at all levels in addressing student success

Joan O’Mahony, Senior Advisor, Advance HE (CONFIRMED)


Special Keynote: Understanding the Problem- Exploring the Attainment Gap for BAME Students

  • Discussing the findings from the Black, Asian and minority ethnic student attainment at UK universities: #ClosingtheGap report published in May 2019
  • Identifying the key aims of this report, including explaining what the attainment gap looks like within the UK and a summary of the findings from the call for evidence
  • Outlining the five key areas for improvement from this report; providing strong leadership, having conversations about race and culture, developing racially diverse and inclusive environment, analysing data related to the attainment gap and understanding what works
  • Highlighting the next steps for the higher education sector in relation to BAME students attainment including creating awareness for the problem and establishing better support networks for these students
  • Understanding how the progress of the sector will be evaluated towards the end of 2020 to ensure that adequate steps are being taken to combat the issues around race, ethnicity and attainment

Aloma Onyemah, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sheffield Hallam University (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Case Study: Implementing Active Collaborative Learning to Improve Learning Outcomes and Reduce the BAME Attainment Gap

Hear how Anglia Ruskin aimed to reduce disparities between how well different groups of students performed through the adoption of team-based learning. The university will outline how they implemented the OfS Catalyst funded Scaling up Active Collaborative Learning for Student Success project and share key guidance on how active collaborative learning methods can be implemented at scale within your own university.


  • Increasing the amount of specialist learning rooms to impact over 2,700 students
  • Improving student engagement, retention and attainment
  • Reducing the attainment gap for BAME students

Sharon Waller, Head Of Anglia Learning and Teaching, Anglia Ruskin University (CONFIRMED)


Case Study: Tackling the BAME Attainment Gap Through Student-Staff Partnership Working

This session will look at the University of Hertfordshire’s BAME Student Advocate programme which gathered the experiences and input of students from across the university with the aim of reducing the attainment gap.

Suggested by a student member of the BAME student success working group, the BAME Student Advocate programme was developed and 10 Student Advocates were appointed to each work with one of the academic schools.

The Advocates shared valuable insights with staff as well as facilitated focus groups to enable BAME students to share experiences and concerns.  Hear about how partnership working has helped us to critique our curriculum, learn more about the experience of students from BAME backgrounds and facilitate challenging conversations about race. We will also share how the programme has led to the development of leadership skills in our Advocates and how doing the role has empowered them to initiate conversations about race and drive change at other institutions.

Understand the challenges that this programme encountered, including the unwillingness of some staff to recognise the attainment gap within their teaching and discover how this programme is now highly valued by the University of Hertfordshire.

Dr Helen Barefoot, Deputy Director of the Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre, University of Hertfordshire (CONFIRMED)


Case Study: Implementing a Successful Whole-University Approach to Improving Attainment

The session will analyse the work of the ‘Close the Gap’ project run by UCL which will aim to address the attainment gap for BAME students. Hear how this project aims to close the attainment gap by creating an inclusive curriculum framework that aims to support staff to embed inclusivity into all aspects of teaching and learning. 

Discussing how UCL has implemented BME attainment faculty leads to implement improvements within each of the teaching schools. Understand how these representatives are best placed to support staff and disseminate relevant good practice to encourage inclusion. 

Paulette Williams, Head of Student Success Projects and Co-Lead BME Attainment Project, UCL (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Lunch and Networking


Afternoon Keynote: Listening to the BAME Student Voice to Effectively Represent All Students

  • Exploring the work that the NUS is doing to represent BAME students through the NUS Black Students Campaign
  • Understanding how universities should approach decolonising the curriculum to ensure equal representation for all students
  • Examining the impact of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic student attainment at UK universities: #ClosingtheGap report including encouraging students to have open, meaningful conversations about race and ethnicity
  • Highlighting the importance of students union BAME representative and how universities should engage with these representatives to create a whole university approach to closing the attainment gap
  • Outlining the importance of listening to the student experience and how to encourage students and staff to have conversations about race

Fope Olaleye, Black Students Officer, National Union of Students (NUS) (CONFIRMED)


Case Study: Tackling the BAME Attainment Gap Through Value Added Scores

Hear how Kingston University are utilising data to assess the success of BAME students to ensure they are capable of achieving their expected degree outcome. Discussing how creating a Value Added metric has been an effective method of engaging academic staff by presenting and communicating the BAME attainment gap.

This value added data, which is available to all staff, is disseminated through a series of meetings and workshops to ensure that staff have a safe environment to discuss the results and the attainment gap, as well as gain support on how to address closing the attainment gap.


  • The success of this approach has led to Kingston University starting to extend the Value Added metric and dashboard across the sector
  • The implementation of an institutional KPI which will increase the proportion of BAME full time first degree qualifier students meeting or exceeding sector expectations
  • This work is a central part of an Achievement Plan designed to take more concrete steps on how the University plans to reduce the BAME attainment gap going forward

Owen Beacock, BME Attainment Gap Institutional KPI Manager, Kingston University (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Case Study: Empowering Personal Tutors as Part of an Institutional Strategy to Reduce the BAME Attainment Gap

Hear how the University of Portsmouth implemented a personal tutoring programme as part of the institutional strategy to close the attainment gap for BAME students and disadvantaged students. This has included the development of a personal tutoring platform, a website providing instant access to all the support services available at the university and a co-created student guide to personal tutoring.

The University of Portsmouth has also invested in a doctoral study of the BAME and white WP student experience at the University and Senior Tutors have been appointed in all departments. The academic year will start with a Personal Tutoring Colloquium where we will launch a student and staff competition on De-Colonising the Curriculum.

Empowering the personal tutors is just one element of the work taking place at the University of Portsmouth. This work is supported by our distinguished alumna and Chancellor Karen Blackett and includes employing BAME Masters students to support undergraduates and a specialist resilience workshop for BAME students. At the same time, we are reviewing our recruitment practices so that the number of our BAME staff is proportional to our growing BAME student population.  

Dr Mary McKeever, Principal Lecturer, University of Portsmouth (CONFIRMED)

Rama Hilouneh, Vice President of Education and Democracy, University of Portsmouth Student Union (CONFIRMED)


Panel Discussion: Understanding the BAME Student Experience and Implementing Effective Measures to Improve Outcomes

  • Exploring the importance of having a BAME student representative to ensure that their views are represented in the wider student population
  • Discussing how universities can engage with student unions to provide support to BAME students
  • Highlighting the most effective ways to collaborate with BAME students to gain an insight into their experiences in order to tailor student services to their needs
  • Outlining key methods of engaging BAME students in activities that promote work experience or networking with experienced individuals to ensure they are prepared for post-university

Fope Olaleye, Black Students Officer, National Union of Students (NUS) (CONFIRMED)

Mohamed Salhi, Vice President of Education, Kings College London Student Union (CONFIRMED)

Jason Palmer, Liberation, Equality & Access Officer, University of Bristol Student Union (CONFIRMED)

Rama Hilouneh, Vice President of Education and Democracy, University of Portsmouth Student Union (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answer Session


Chair's Closing Remarks

You May Also Like