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New research partnership: impact of HE curriculum reform on race equality gaps

race equality gaps

The Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (@taso_he) is partnering with the University of Kent and the University of Leicester to research the impact of curriculum reform on race equality gaps.

The project will evaluate the impact of curriculum reform on the degree awarding gap between Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students and their white peers. Evidence shows that BAME students consistently receive lower grades than white students, even after controlling for key factors such as entry qualification.

The curriculum reform programmes include incorporating racially diverse authors on reading lists, reviewing assessment processes, and making teaching more inclusive.

Dr Omar Khan, Director of TASO said:

“Race equality gaps in degree awarding are longstanding and persistent across higher education. Black, Asian and minority ethnic students are less likely to secure a first or 2:1, impacting not only their student experience, but also their prospects in the labour market. While universities and colleges have increased efforts to address these gaps – spurred on by ambitious targets from the Office for Students and increasing pressure from students – there is limited evidence on whether existing interventions are effectively tackling the degree awarding gap.

“Our innovative research project with the University of Kent and the University of Leicester will help the sector identify the impact of diversifying the curriculum on persistent race equality gaps. In understanding the impact of such initiatives, we can work towards ensuring better experiences and outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students, and also help tackle wider racial inequalities in society.”

Dr Kathleen M Quinlan, Professor of Higher Education & Director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Kent said:

“We are delighted to be working with TASO on a robust evaluation of an initiative to diversify reading lists. The intervention was initially designed by Dr Barbara Adewumi and Mr Dave S.P. Thomas and implemented in collaboration with student project officers. Through this evaluation, we aim to investigate the impact of a more culturally sensitive curriculum on the BAME awarding gap, illuminate the mechanism through which it leads to reduced awarding gaps, and suggest further steps to decolonise the curriculum. We believe, in the long term, this evaluation will have a significant impact on enhancing the experiences of all students, particularly BAME students, and on reducing the degree-awarding gap.” 

Dr Paul Campbell, Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Leicester said:

“We are really looking forward to working with TASO on this vitally important work. In summer 2020, we begun trialling our decolonising the curriculum toolkit. The toolkit helps our teachers to create more open, equality-driven, representative, relevant and inspiring modules and curriculum for all of our students – modules which provide for study a plural, critical and globalised canon of knowledge. The funding award from TASO will enable us to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of the toolkit in relation to its impact on improving students’ satisfaction on our courses, the relatability of our courses to their own lives and importantly, in relation to reducing the award gap.”

TASO’s research will adopt a matched difference-in-differences methodological approach. The outcome measure will be the attainment of BAME students in diversified modules and courses, compared with attainment of BAME students in matched comparator groups. 

The research will also assess the impact of curriculum reform on BAME students’ engagement and satisfaction with their studies.

Research partners were selected after an open call for proposals. All applications were assessed by TASO’s Theme Working Group (TWG) for the student experience.

The TWG recommended race equality gaps as a research priority, following consideration of the current evidence on effective practice in addressing gaps in the student experience.

The project will run until March 2022, with interim results released in 2021. 

About the partner programmes

University of Kent

The University of Kent’s curriculum reform intervention is known as the ‘Diversity Mark’ initiative, an award-winning collaboration between the student success team, students, and library services. Diversity Mark is designed to include more BAME perspectives in the formal curriculum, making it more culturally sensitive, promoting richer interaction between students and teachers, and engaging BAME students’ interest. The initiative awards convenors that undergo a process of review and reflection with their students to ensure they have considered authors and perspectives from diverse racial backgrounds within their modules.

University of Leicester

The University of Leicester’s curriculum reform intervention is known as the ‘Decolonising the Curriculum Toolkit’. The toolkit provides a set of practical guidelines that will help make teaching practice more inclusive and more responsive to the student body. This includes guidance on developing more inclusive content, such as reading lists, case studies and imagery, reviewing assessment processes to make them more relevant to the student’s lived experience, and module teaching through consultation with students.

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