Mary Makinde is a Lecturer in Forensic Investigation and the University’s BAME Strategic Lead for the Closing Our Gap Strategy group which aims to eradicate the BAME attainment gap. In this expert comment Mary explains the work that is taking place within the University to close our gap and tackle issues around race.

The attainment gap relates to a significant and persistent disparity in the academic attainment between different groups of students. The BAME attainment gap is the difference in the degree outcomes between Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and their white counterparts. In March 2019 a joint report by Universities UK and the National Union of Students highlighted the extent of the BAME attainment gap in universities across the United Kingdom. In this report it was found that a student’s race and ethnicity can significantly impact their degree outcome, with white students more likely to graduate with a 1st or 2:1 degree classification. It is important to recognise that BAME is not a homogenous group and when the data is further scrutinized the largest gap is observed between black students and white students.  

At Canterbury Christ Church we are proud that we attract students from all backgrounds, cultures and areas of the globe, and whilst a large proportion of our students receive a 1st or a 2:1 degree, we acknowledge that there is difference in the proportion of black students and white students achieving a 1st and 2:1 honours degree. This is not something that we are proud of. Following an institutional review, we have ruled out possible explanations for the gap such as prior attainment, socio-economic background, commuting, subject choice and entry tariff. 

We also understand that the implications of the attainment gap are far-reaching and therefore our Black students may experience additional challenges once they graduate because of their degree outcome. For instance, they will have less chances to secure employment and Postgraduate positions that require a 2:1 or above in a relevant degree and this may subsequently impact on representation within a sector.  

For these reasons, and our strong belief that every student has a right to a quality education, we have made a strategic commitment to reducing and ultimately eradicating the gap.  

Being a Black woman is something that I am immensely proud of, but I am also fully aware of the challenges that people of colour face on a daily basis and as such, the BAME attainment gap concerns me greatly. I am frustrated that this gap exists. I strongly believe that everyone has the right to a quality, inclusive and diverse education that gives them the opportunity to thrive and reach their career aspirations.  

So, the question is what are we doing? In 2019 the University made a commitment to eradicating the gap and put together a Closing Our Gap Strategy group. The group comprises of academic and professional service staff from across the University, but more importantly it is a collaboration in which our BAME students are at the heart of every decision made. As such BAME students from across the University and representatives from the BAME Student Network co-lead on the Closing Our Gap Strategy group, thus we serve as partners in tackling the gap, addressing issues around race and racism. Working as partners will help us to gain a better understanding of the lived experiences of our BAME students, develop inclusive and diverse learning environments and build a sense of belonging. Through this group we are committed to breaking down institutional barriers and inequalities that inhibit our BAME students from reaching their potential.  

Since my appointment I have held a series of focus groups with BAME students across the institution, including undergraduate, postgraduate students and students undertaking placements. Through this I have started to gain an understanding of the barriers that we as an institution are placing in front of our students, although some of these were not a surprise to me having gone through the UK education system myself. Through these conversations and the initial data collected by the University we have put together work strands that have been grouped under three categories: CultureCurriculum and Community.  

  • Culture – the university is committed to creating an environment that celebrates diversity in which our core values are reflected. 
  • Curriculum – the University is committed to developing diverse and inclusive curricula that are representative and reflective of the staff and student body. 
  • Community – the University is committed to developing a friendly, inclusive and professional community that fosters good relationships and a sense of belonging in which everyone is heard and respected. 

Through these work strands we will ensure that we are dismantling and addressing social injustice and the inequalities that exist. 

In recognition that we need to provide a robust system for issues around racism and hate crime to be reported and monitored we have also implemented a Report + Support mechanism for students and staff to report incidences of racism and hate crime anonymously, or to an adviser. This system is designed to ensure that any individual experiencing racism can be supported through what we know can often be a difficult conversation to have. Through this system we are also proactively monitoring the types of incidents reported, this will help us to implement change and proactively take action where required.  

What are we doing next? 

Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic and the untimely death of George Floyd in America along with the issues arising in the case have further highlighted the racial inequalities in our society. These events have further emphasised the urgent requirement for equality within education, society and the need to dismantle educational structures and educate on privilege. 

Through conversations with students and staff across the University we have developed a package of staff development workshops that aim to tackle racism, unconscious bias, white privilege, intersectionality, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and how to decolonise the curriculum.  The workshops have been co-designed with our students to ensure that they are authentic in their approach and representative of their experiences whilst studying at the University and within the wider society.  

Our Inclusive Curriculum Working Group will evolve our learning and teaching practices to make them more inclusive for all our students and colleagues. This includes decolonising the curriculum, embedding inclusive practice, analysing programmes for inclusive practice and recommending interventions where required and working with our students to help shape our delivery of an inclusive and diverse curriculum. 

Positive action work is underway to diversifying our staff body at all academic and professional services levels as we recognise the importance of representation. This will help enrich the learning experience of our students and build better relationships within our learning community as exposure to diversity it just as important for our white students as it is for our BAME students in tackling racial stereotypes.  

We will be undertaking research involving current and past students that will further help us gain a deep understanding of the experiences of BAME students at Canterbury Christ Church, and identify different approaches to teaching and support services across the University.  

Through the work that is currently underway, I have been inspired by seeing the difference in the confidence and subsequently the attainment of my BAME students when barriers are removed and they are allowed to flourish. The energy that I get from seeing them achieve their goals is what drives me to do better. 

I recognise that there is still significant progress to be made and some of this progress will take time, but I am committed to change and eradicating the gap. Through close collaboration with our BAME students we can create an environment in which diversity is celebrated.  

How to get involved 

Whether you are a current student, an alumni, or an incoming student we welcome all student involvement, especially those from a UK or International BAME background, to get involved with our commitment to the reducing attainment gap. To get involved or if you have any queries please contact Mary Makinde via email: ClosingOurGap@canterbury.ac.uk 

For more information visit our ClosingOurGap webpages, or email: ClosingOurGap@canterbury.ac.uk