New research study explores the Asian student experience of degree awarding gap

1 Feb 2021

The findings of a research project aimed at better understanding the experiences of Asian students studying at the University of Winchester show that they experience particular challenges, which are markedly different from other BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students.

The project - undertaken by the University's Centre for Student Engagement - sought to identify why large gaps in attainment were being reported between UK-domiciled White and Asian students at the University of Winchester. The degree awarding gap refers to the percentage point between the proportion of students from different groups awarded a first or 2:1 degree classification on graduation. The biggest differences are found by ethnic background which is regularly regarded as a systemic issue within the higher education sector.

The report found that factors including social and cultural isolation, lack of representation, and racialised experiences both in and outside of formal learning and teaching, played a part in the higher education experience of the University of Winchester's Asian students.

This is largely in line with previous studies carried out within the sector which have investigated the BAME degree awarding gap, yet these new findings show how Asian students navigated through these experiences in different ways. To date, there has been little research which explicitly looks at the higher education experience of this particular group, who are often placed in the larger BAME umbrella term.

The students taking part in the project, who mainly came from South Asian backgrounds, highlighted the significance of cultural values which placed importance on the role of family in their lives. Whilst students clearly valued the strong relationships they held with their families (notably their parents), the report considers how this may unintentionally place an academic burden upon students. Importantly, students did not perceive such relationships to have a negative effect on their lives.

"Despite the efforts of the higher education sector to eliminate gaps in attainment along ethnic lines, disparities in experiences and outcomes persist amongst 'BAME' students," said Maisha Islam, Student Engagement Research and Projects Officer, who led the project.

"Our report highlights the importance for universities to disaggregate between and amongst their ethnically minoritised students. An over-reliance on the term 'BAME' fails to capture an experience which is fundamentally diverse and requires targeted measures for effective redressal."

"In disaggregating the term BAME, universities are able to better understand where pockets of inequality lie. At Winchester, disaggregating our BAME degree awarding gap meant we were able to identify a significantly large degree awarding gap between our White and Asian UK-domiciled students - as large as 33 percentage points in 2016/17."

The report also found that some of the Asian students taking part in the project did not seem to identify themselves as a carer, despite undertaking considerable caring duties. Due to the significant importance placed upon families and especially parents, students willingly took on additional duties.

As many students did not perceive such duties as burdensome, the report argues that universities should aim to better support and accommodate these needs as appropriate - especially where issues related to caring responsibilities within certain BAME communities have already been identified.

"As a result of our findings, we encourage universities to work actively with their students to think about all aspects of the student experience and thus develop an institutional culture which is accepting of our diverse student bodies. Our recommendations apply both to the University of Winchester and Winchester Student Union, where a partnership approach is necessary to collectively and holistically support all our students' experiences," said Maisha Islam.

The report makes recommendations in four areas, including institutions holistically considering the wider campus culture; learning and teaching mechanisms, and areas supporting students' access, progression and success lifecycle.

Maisha Islam adds: "If implemented, these recommendations will positively result in enhancing the student experience for Winchester's Asian students and actively work towards eliminating degree-awarding gaps. This research marks another way in which we as a University can fulfil our aims of social justice and provide more equitable experiences for certain minoritised student groups, whose voices and knowledge are an important part of our community.

The report, Disaggregating the BAME degree awarding gap: Understanding and exploring the Asian student experience, is available on Issuu

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