Epigram is wrong about the black student attainment gap

A response from a BME student

Epigram, UOB’s student paper, has written in its latest issue about the attainment gap between black and white students at the university.

For some years, it has been noticed by institutions of higher education that there exists a gap in attainment between white students and those from and ethnic minority background.

The student paper, quite rightly, obtained the data through a freedom of information request but their interpretation of the data is highly misleading.

The paper reported that out of those graduating in 2016, 6 of those students obtained a first equating to 15.8% of black students. The paper was also correct to point out that a black student is half as likely to obtain a first compared to their white counterparts.

The statistic stating that for every 2 black students with a first there are 293 white students with a first is misleading as the proportion of black students, in any statistic that compares black and white students, will always be very low given that black students make up 1.5% of Bristol’s student population.

A picture of the author

An average of 37% of black Bristol graduates failed to obtain a 2:1 compared to an average of 11% of white students from 2010 – 2016. The paper included a graph detailing the proportion of black and white students obtaining an upper second class classification in their degrees or higher. The proportion of white students achieving these marks appears to be increasing year on year where as the proportion of black students fluctuates wildly.

Given that so few black students go to Bristol, instances of students getting low classifications for their degrees will have more of an impact on the overall proportion getting a 2:1 or higher as the base is lower. Fluctuations of this kind are too be expected. This is to say nothing of issues that may have affected a particular cohort of black students and resulted in them not doing as well, as was the case in 2013/2014 where 50% of Black students obtained a 2:1 or higher.

The paper fails to point out that in spite of the fluctuations in the data, the trend is generally going upwards. From the data, if one takes into account the trend, we see that a gap exists but we see that it is lessening gradually.

Another issue with the coverage is the muddling of terms. Black, used by the writers, and BME, used in comments from university and students union officials, are used interchangeably. The term black refers to, in common parlance, those of sub-Saharan African descent where as BME (black and minority ethnic) is a term used to refer to those who are not of European decent.

It’s unclear whether the issues highlighted affect only black (as I’ve described it) students or non-white students. Either way, it is right that something is being done to tackle the problem and increase awareness on the issue.