Titled ‘Mind the Gap’, the panel discussed the ongoing attainment division in Higher Education among BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) students and the initiatives that need to be taken to ensure fairer education outcomes for them. 

Held on Thursday 25 October at the Regent Street campus, the panel included Professor Roland Dannreuther, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience; Claire Herbert, previously Race Equality Charter Manager for the Equality Challenge Unit; Dr Akile Ahmet, Lecturer in Sociology of Race at Middlesex University; Westminster undergraduate Psychology student, Karl Donaldson, and Dr Jason Arday, Senior Lecturer in Education Studies at the University of Roehampton.

Moderated by Professor Dibyesh Anand, Head of the School of Social Sciences and Chair of the BME Staff Network and Lubaba Khalid, BME Officer for the Student’s Union, the panel mentioned the importance for universities to help students and staff develop a sense of belonging while becoming more accountable and transparent on this issue. The discussion was covered by the University of Westminster Students’ Union radio station, Smoke Radio.

On a national level, the attainment gap is wider for a first-class degree classification than at 2:1 level. It was recognised that bias in teaching and ‘Whiteness of the curriculum’ continue to exist, not only within Higher Education but also in primary and secondary schools, as well as in early years prior to starting mainstream education.

The discussion included topics around Black-British academics and students. The BME attainment gap is linked to the significantly limited number of Black-British professors in academia, with only 19 Black female professors actively teaching in the UK. 

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Deborah Husbands, Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences, Vice Chair of the BME Staff Network and co-organiser of the event, said: “The attainment gap has a long history that is underpinned by deficit thinking around achieving potential for BME students. We need initiatives that will likely actively tackle and reduce the gap. There are examples of good practice in this at other universities.

“Here at Westminster, the aim is to learn from those initiatives, work with the culture of the university to increase sense of belonging, improve progression for BME students, and provide an excellent experience for all students that recognises intersections of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and disability.”

Another crucial issue discussed was the lack of appropriate mental health services to the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) student community. Pastoral care in universities is not culturally up to standard, and whilst institutions have funds to provide better services, stakeholders are reluctant to support these areas.

Speaking about the steps the University of Westminster plans to take to minimise the attainment gap, Professor Roland Dannreuther mentioned an anonymous marking system to prevent unconscious bias, internationalisation of the curriculum and bringing in BAME role models to guide and support students throughout their degrees.

He said: “Congratulations to our Students’ Union and the BME Staff Network for setting up such an important and informed debate on the attainment gap. It is such a critical topic and a challenge for the University of Westminster that needs addressing with concrete actions.” 

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