Black graduates 12% less likely to gain a first class degree than their white peers

New report released today reveals that black graduates get worse degrees and earn less than white peers

Black graduates of UK universities are less likely than their white peers to get a first-class degree, less likely to end up in graduate-level work and less likely to earn above £25,000, new data reveals today.

Analysis by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) of the Graduate outcomes in London report, published today, shows that black graduates end up with notably worse economic outcomes than white classmates who entered university with similar qualifications and backgrounds. The results are “disturbing” evidence of inequality, the think-tank said.

The SMF analysed data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) as part of a report for the Greater London Authority. The analysis shows the outcomes for different groups of graduates six months after leaving university.

The SMF report reveals that:

Degree classification
Black graduates are 12% less likely to gain a first class degree than white students of comparable backgrounds. All other ethnicity groups are less likely to get a first class degree than white students.

Black graduates earn less than white, Asian and mixed-race graduates six months after graduating. 25% of black graduates earn above £25,000 compared to 38% of Asian graduates, and 30% of white graduates.

Graduate-level jobs
Asian and black graduates are less likely to be in graduate-level employment than white graduates; and 80% of white graduates in employment are employed full-time, compared to 70% of employed black graduates.

The SMF said the differences in attainment and outcomes between groups of graduates should spur the government and universities to put more focus on supporting different groups of students.

It is simply unacceptable that Black graduates are less likely to achieve a first class degree and secure a suitable job after graduation than their white peers – Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London

The study focuses on graduates in and from London, showing that white Londoners are more geographically mobile when it comes to choosing which university to study at. Three-quarters attend university outside the capital, compared to almost six in ten black Londoners and just over a third of Asian Londoners.

Significant influencing factors

The results also reveal that parental wealth and a student’s post-16 qualifications are both highly significant for their careers after university:

  • Graduates whose parents worked in intermediate or routine/manual occupations were less likely to get a first compared with peers whose parents worked in higher and managerial role.
  • Students who entered university with vocational qualifications such as BTECs are 10% less likely to gain a first than A-level students.


The SMF report said that “more needs to be done” to ensure that universities focus on improving attainment and graduate outcomes across characteristics, as well as focusing on widening access to higher education.

Concerns over quality

The government has expressed concern about the quality of higher education courses, while the Office for Students is currently conducting an inquiry into improving standards in the universities sector. Both emphasise that quality in higher education is linked to graduate employment and earning outcomes.

But the SMF warned that “very little is known” about how graduate outcomes are influenced by student characteristics like ethnicity and educational background.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, commented: “We know that racial inequality remains a deep-rooted problem in our society, and I commissioned this study to fully understand the barriers black Londoners still face.

“The results of this work are stark. It is simply unacceptable that Black graduates are less likely to achieve a first class degree and secure a suitable job after graduation than their white peers.

“London has helped to improve access to higher education over the last decade and has the most diverse student population in the country, but it is clear that much more needs to be done to ensure that Black graduates are supported to achieve their full potential.”

Unequal outcomes

James Kirkup, director of the Social Market Foundation, said: “This analysis sheds new light on the unequal outcomes facing too many black people in Britain today. The fact that a black graduate is likely to get a worse class of degree, a lower-grade job and a lower salary than a white classmate should disturb anyone who wants a free and fair economy.

“The sort of job your parents do shouldn’t matter to your chances of getting a good degree and a good job, but these data show that family background is a real factor in a student’s prospects. This educational inequality shouldn’t be tolerated.

“Universities have made some progress in widening access, opening up higher education to more people. But they need to build on that progress by doing more to ensure that all students, no matter what their race or background, can get the best academic and economic outcomes.”

You might also like: Black and female academics: university pace of change ‘glacial’, says UCU


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