Drop ‘BAME’ to tackle awarding gaps, says AccessHE

Report recommends that providers analyse results for specific ethnic groups rather than using BAME as a category

A new report from Access HE has urged London higher education providers to ditch the term ‘BAME’ when looking at the awarding gaps between white students and students from non-white groups.

The report ‘Higher Education awarding gaps and ethnicity in London: Going beyond BAME’, authored by Professor Graeme Atherton and Dr Tuba Mazhari, looks at awarding gaps between students of different ethnic groups at London universities. It draws on Ucas data, focus groups with students from non-white ethnic groups and a survey looking at the practices of some London universities.

It shows that, despite London being one of the most diverse student cities in the world, there are significant awarding gaps between students from different ethnic backgrounds – and that each ethnic group has its own attainment profile, making the term ‘BAME’ of limited help.

No one provider has the answers on its own – AccessHE

The report found that:

  • Across all London providers, 36 per cent of white students achieved a first class degree in 2018-19 compared to 19 per cent of students from non-white groups.
  • 82 per cent of white students achieved a first/upper 2:1 as opposed to 58 per cent of students from non-white groups.
  • The awarding gap between black and white students achieving first/upper 2:1 at different universities ranges from 1 per cent to 29 per cent.
  • Each ethnic group has its own distinctive attainment profile. For example, while Indian students are amongst the most likely to obtain a first, they are also the most likely (in percentage terms) to obtain an unclassified degree.
  • Students were clear about the limitations of the term BAME to describe them, with one student stating: “I feel like, at present, everyone is included in something that pertains to black students and I don’t think it’s helped us in any way”.
  • Few Access and Participation Plans (APPs), produced by London HE providers and examined by AccessHE, had targets related to specific ethnic groups. For example, only one APP had a target that related to a specific group of Asian students, which were those from Pakistani/ Bangladeshi backgrounds.


The report recommends that:

  • Each provider should analyse the differences in attainment between white students and those from each different ethnic group and publish the results annually.
  • The Office for Students (OfS)should adopt a more granular focus in establishing their key performance indicators (KPIs) for access and participation, separating differences in first class degree achievement from those at upper 2:1.
  • The OfS should ask providers to construct, where cohort numbers allow, targets related to closing awarding gaps that relate to specific ethnic groups rather than using BAME as a category.
  • A pan-London initiative to address gaps in degree awarding and outcomes, bringing together HE providers, representative bodies, the Mayor’s Office and other key stakeholders should be launched from 2021-22. The group should develop shared approaches to meeting this challenge.


“If attainment gaps between learners from different ethnic backgrounds are to be reduced then collaboration and exchange of practice between HE providers in London is essential,” the report concludes.

“The size and nature of these gaps may differ across providers but they exist in them all. Being serious about addressing them does not just mean investing in strategic change and addressing institutional culture. It means setting aside hierarchies and competition to recognise that no one provider has the answers on its own.

“A coherent initiative engaging stakeholders from across London including HE providers and others is essential if a city with one of (if not the) most diverse student populations in the world is going to support students to achieve their full potential.”

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