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eSTEeM Thematic Seminar Series: Degree Awarding Gap

Wednesday, 21 February, 2018 - 14:00
Wednesday, 21 February, 2018 - 16:00
The Open University, Milton Keynes

eSTEeM is developing a series of thematic seminars with invited speakers and we are delighted to announce details of our first event which will focus on the degree awarding gap. The seminar will take place on Wednesday 21 February, 14.00-16.00 at the Open University when we will be joined by colleagues from Kingston University and the University of Bradford; further details can be found below. If you would like to regsiter please contact 

A Statistical Study of “Attainment Gaps” (and their Causes) in Students’ Performance in STEM Subjects at a Post-1992 UK University

Mastaneh Davis, Gordon Hunter and Stenford Ruvinga, Kingston University, London

Previous research (e.g. ECU (2008)) has indicated an “attainment gap” between certain groups of students in Higher Education. Even when factors such as socio-economic background and pre-University attainment levels have been controlled, Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic (BAME) students tend to achieve lower grades than their White peers.  In some disciplines (notably some sciences), there is also a marked gap between genders. 

A previous project at Kingston (2015) indicated that STEM students’ performance at one level of their HE studies correlated significantly and positively with their performance at later levels. However, the regression coefficients (notably the slope) relating their grades at different levels varied considerably between subject disciplines, and subject-specific simple regression only explained a modest proportion of inter-person variation. However, that study did not take any account of students’ individual attributes, e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background.

In this talk, we describe our recent work extending the previous project by taking such additional factors into account, to investigate how students from different backgrounds and of different genders and ethnicities perform at different levels of their degree studies. Use of multivariate (multiple linear regression and logistic regression) and multi-level regression models have yielded “all else being equal” results, indicating that BAME students typically achieve marks around 3% lower than those of their white peers, and older students tend to perform less well than younger ones.  We are also investigating the influence of students’ socio-economic backgrounds and entry qualifications on their performance at University, and the influence of all these factors on student progression and attainment of “good” (First or Upper Second Class Honours) final degrees.

We also had available more “fine grained” information on the profiles of first year mathematics degree students, including their attendance rates at classes, genders, more detail ethnicity information and socio-economic backgrounds, so we were able to perform a more detailed analysis of these students in relation to their attainment. In the first year of their higher education studies, female students of mathematics actually performed slightly better on average than their male peers, and BAME students slightly better than while students, although neither of those differences was statistically significant. Noting that BAME students are more likely to continue living at home during their studies, and thus possibly have long commutes to University, we hypothesised that this could negatively affect their attendance at classes, and hence possibly have a detrimental effect on their academic performance. A student’s average first year module mark proved to be highly significantly correlated with their attendance rate (R = 0.486, df = 84, p < 0.001), although there was substantial variation between students with similar attendance rates.

These results could be of considerable value for monitoring and addressing the BAME and gender attainment gaps at Kingston University and elsewhere, and to identifying and rectifying the origins of the problem.

Scaling-up Active Collaborative Learning for Student Success

Alison Hartley, University of Bradford

Addressing the attainment gap is an area of strategic importance for all of our institutions. Previous experience, evaluation results, as well as anecdotal and literary evidence indicates that active, collaborative pedagogies can be used to address attainment disparities. Additionally, a focus on inclusive curriculum design moves the focus from ‘add on’ support for specific groups of students to a core, structural change that removes unintended barriers to student success.

At the University of Bradford we are working with colleagues at Nottingham Trent University and Anglia Ruskin University to explore this further. We each have experience of using SCALE-UP (Student-Centred Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies) and TBL (Team-Based learning), but at a relatively small scale. It has proven challenging for HE institutions to spread the adoption of these pedagogies beyond the early adopters, even though the value of the approaches is widely recognised. 

This project therefore, will focus on addressing institutional barriers to widespread adoption and test whether the benefits of the pedagogies continue to work at scale.

Whilst this piece of work is at an early stage of development, I welcome the opportunity to learn about what other institutions are doing and to share some of our experiences at the University of Bradford.  Who knows, perhaps this is a conversation that might just go somewhere?