BME Attainment Gap

What is the BME attainment gap, and why is it important?

Although UK universities are achieving some success in attracting increasingly diverse undergraduate cohorts, there is compelling evidence that students from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds do much less well in their final degree classifications than their White counterparts, even when entry qualifications are taken into account. 

Of all UK domiciled graduates in 2017 79.6% of White graduates received a first or upper second degree classification as compared with 66.0% of BME graduates, a difference of 13.6 percentage points. While this gap has closed a little in recent years it remains a major challenge for higher education in the UK far exceeding the gaps for gender and (on the evidence of this project) class.

For more information on the BME attainment gap visit the HEA websites Undergraduate retention and attainment across the disciplines (2014), Higher Education Academy  and Equality Challenge Unit

Tackling the gap

All the partners in this project had already prioritised tackling the BME attainment gap, and these are some of the approaches they’d adopted:

Kingston University:
In 2012 the Board of Governors adopted a Key Performance Indicator and an institution wide action plan to address the attainment gap of which the Value Added (VA) metric and Inclusive Curriculum Framework (ICF) were key components

The University of Hertfordshire:
In 2012 the University publically announced an objective to reduce the BME attainment gap by 10% by 2014-15. Accountability had been determined at all levels to challenge all staff to accept responsibility for making a change to their own practice.

The University of Wolverhampton:
The University had been involved in a number of national initiatives relating to attainment, including ‘Disparities in Student Attainment (DiSA), What Works?’ and the previous HEA-funded VA Methodology project with Kingston and Hertfordshire.

De Montfort University:
The advancement of equality (including attainment) was seen as intrinsic to the values, aspirations and mission of the University. The ‘Student Retention and Attainment Strategy‘ (2016-20) had set out a comprehensive range of actions and principles to improve student outcomes.

University College London:
The culture of the University was one of inclusion. In that context an attainment gap was simply unacceptable. The University’s Education Strategy 2016-21 made commitments to ensuring support to all students to achieve academic success, regardless of their backgrounds.

The University of Greenwich:
The University’s first strategic objective was to, ‘Maximise the individual potential and satisfaction of students through outstanding learning and teaching’. While there had been improvement in the overall performance of students, some populations – including BME groups – were not attaining as well as others.

Further Reading

McDuff, N., Tatam, J., Beacock, O. and Ross, F. (2018) ‘Closing the attainment gap for students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds through institutional change.’ Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 20(1), 79-101. ISSN (print) 1466-6529.  

Singh, G. (2009) Black and minority ethnic (BME) students’ participation in higher education: improving retention and success: A synthesis of research evidence. York: Higher Education Academy. Available at:

Stevenson, J. (2012) Black and minority ethnic student degree retention and attainment. Higher Education Academy, Higher Education Funding Council. Available at: