Published on January 30, 2013 | by Siss Anderson


‘Higher education’s dirty secret’

Ethnically diverse group of students at LCC

Statistics reveal a gap in grades between students of different ethnicities.
[Lucy Copley]

The gap between the grades of white British students and black and minority ethnic (BME) students at UAL has been described as “higher education’s dirty secret” by the university’s dean of students, Mark Crawley.

Crawley was speaking about the difference in degree attainment at a meeting – Race equality in higher education –  organised by UAL diversity initiative Shades of Noir at London College of Communication.

In 2011, only 53 per cent of BME UK undergraduate students achieved a first or a 2.1, compared to 77 per cent of white UK students.

“The issue is certainly not one of ability,” vice-chancellor Nigel Carrington explained on his blog. “All our students successfully make it through the same testing admissions process and are evaluated using the same criteria. Significantly, it is also not an issue of social background – white working class students overall do better at UAL than black middle class students.”

Curriculum content, under-representation of BME teachers and the lack of understanding of different cultures could be behind the attainment gap panel members said at the talk.

Cultural value

Just 13 per cent of non-professorial academic staff at universities in the UK and one in 14 professors are from a BME background according to a new report by the University College Union (UCU).

Crawley said that UAL is monitoring the ethnic diversity of its staff, including those involved in research and projects, and has set up a career development programme for BME staff and events to help close the degree attainment gap.

The talk encouraged a discussion around inclusivity and cultural value in creative higher education and the creative sector.

Unfortunately for the black students, nothing is changing radically soon.” Simon Woolley, Co-founder of Operation Black Vote

The panel consisted of broadcast journalist Charlene White, Arts of China course director at Christies Education Nixi Cura, academic Carolyn Bew and the attainment officer at University of Bradford Kanja Sesay.

Simon Woolley, co-founder and director of lobby group Operation Black Vote, spoke of the actions being taken by the university to address the attainment gap.


He said: “Mark [Crawley] and the university are brave to have this talk. This is step one.

“Unfortunately for the black students, nothing is changing radically soon.

Woolley agreed that the gap could be due to under-representation of BME teachers or a lack of understanding of different student cultures.

Olamide Olayinka, 23, graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA in Textile Design in 2012 and was aware of the attainment gap.

She said: “In my personal experience, I have been lucky enough to have tutors who I felt understood me and my work and I assume marked me fairly. But this hasn’t always been the case in terms of my education. Also I know of a lot of other students within the same institution as me who haven’t had a great university experience.”


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