“BAME” hides all sorts of complexity – but even the Black awarding gap had fallen to 16.5 percentage points, again the lowest on record.
Different definitions abound, but here we’re looking at UK domiciled first degree qualifiers by classification of first degree and ethnicity marker, where we’re comparing percentage of white students getting a first or a 2:1 with the percentage of non-white students that achieve the same.
The problem with the champagne corks is that it all turned out to be a statistical trick. If in a given year everyone does better, then it would look like the gap was closing because more BAME students would hit the threshold for a 2:1.
You’d only spot if there was still a problem if you looked at firsts only. And guess what – the BAME firsts awarding gap was 9.9pp, and the Black firsts awarding gap was 18.2pp – the highest on record.
So when, back in January, HESA published this year’s data on degree classifications and Universities UK was celebrating “turning the corner on grade inflation”, the question was whether that would cause the reverse effect on the awarding gaps.
And guess what again. The BAME gap has increased 1.7pp to 10.5pp, and the Black gap has increased 1.8pp to 18.3pp. White students getting good honours fell 3.1pp – but BAME fell by 4.8pp, Black students fell 4.9pp, and Asian students getting good honours fell 5.3pp.
In other words, the crackdown on grade inflation has hit students of colour harder than white students. Whatever the sector and its regulators think is being done on awarding gaps, it’s not working. And in some cases, we’re going in reverse.
We can’t see students’ actual marks, obviously, but we can see those firsts. There the gap for BAME overall is the highest it’s ever been at 10.5pp, Black students is up at 17.6pp, and it’s also the highest it’s ever been for Asian students at 8.6pp.
The “cracking down on grade inflation” thing hitting BAME students hardest is interesting because the sector told itself and others that the flexibilities it found during over Covid hadn’t compromised the integrity of grades.
So the resultant re-tightening of academic regulations, and the accompanying return to pre-pandemic (and in some cases prehistoric) assessment practices may have cheered up the regulator and politicians – but appear to have made it harder for BAME students to demonstrate their abilities and competence.
Looks like it’s time to go back to the drawing board, sharpish.