Degree Attainment Gaps and New Research at Loughborough University

In this blog-post for the Centre for Academic Practice, Nuzhat Fatima, LSU Welfare and Diversity Executive Officer, discusses the Black and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap in UK higher education institutions, and introduces a new research project at Loughborough entitled ‘Experiences in the Classroom and Beyond: The Role of Race and Ethnicity’

What is the ‘degree attainment gap’?

The ‘degree attainment gap’ is often described as a national crisis within the education system. The Equality Challenge Unit describes the degree attainment gap as “the difference in ‘top degrees’ – a First or 2:1 classification – awarded to different groups of students. The largest divergence can be found between BME (Black Minority and Ethnic Students) and White British students. Leaving an education institution with lower grades has lifetime effects; this limits BME students into pursuing a potential post-graduate education where the requirements generally tend to be a 2:1 or above. Most graduate employers will require a 2:1 or above also.

The problem arises as many BME students enter university with the same grade classification as their white counterparts. However, BME students leave university with significantly lower grades in comparison to their white peers.

“In 2012/13, 57.1% of UK-domiciled BME students received a top degree when compared with 73.2% of White British students’ – an overall gap of 16.1%” (ECU).

Homogenising all minority students is unhelpful as they are a diverse group with differing outcomes. For example, Black and Caribbean students are the worst affected group at a national level. When observing the national breakdown of the BME category (2012/13), it can be seen that Black and Caribbean students are the most affected ethnic group. Students from Pakistani, Chinese and Indian backgrounds are also affected.

  • 4%of Indian students were awarded a top degree (a degree attainment gap of 8.8%)
  • 9%of Chinese students (a gap of 9.3%)
  • 2%of Pakistani students (a gap of 19.0%)
  • 8%of Black Other students (a gap of 29.4%)” (ECU).

A reliance on a meritocratic model to understand academic achievement has meant that the BME attainment gap was, and sometimes still is, framed as a problem caused by a limitation in the students themselves. This is also known as a deficit model. However, the attainment gap would not be a national problem if it were a meritocratic issue only. This raises the question of whether there are conditions within our educational institutions that negatively impact BME students both culturally and academically, and which contribute to the existence of the attainment gap.

Potential contributors

There is no sole contributor to the attainment gap. Multiple factors contribute to students being unable to reach their potential and attain a top degree. It can be due to geographical location, institutional insensitivity towards culture, a Euro-centric based curriculum, methods of assessment, and experiences of racism which go beyond the classroom and have a lasting impact on student life. Additionally, social interactions within clubs and societies can also impact on academic performance. These points are often dismissed as generalisations that potentially impact all students; however, to tackle the BME attainment gap one must consider how these factors work together in a negative way to disproportionately affect BME students.

What can be done? A way of tackling this is institution specific research, which does not homogenise institutions and lived experiences. Such research can become a catalyst for tackling the BME attainment gap on a structural and an institutional level.

What is Loughborough proposing to do?

 Loughborough prides itself on being an inclusive university and is aiming to tackle this national problem on an institutional level! Together with brilliant academics such as Dr Line Nyhagen (Reader in Sociology & School Champion Athena SWAN) and Dr James Esson (Lecturer in Human Geography), I have contributed to the proposal for a newly funded student led pedagogical research project. This research project will be carried out so that we as an institution can further our progress towards making education inclusive by raising standards and aspirations of all!

The project will examine BME and other students’ own learning experiences at Loughborough University in relation to the curriculum content and more broadly, including their take-up of individual consultations with lecturers, relationships with peers, and take-up of opportunities that can enhance their learning experience (e.g., student rep positions; student ambassador jobs).

I want to congratulate Loughborough University for putting diversity on the agenda and I am thrilled to have support from the University and the above academics who are committed to learning from the experiences of students in order to deliver the best education possible.

Information taken from the ECU:

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Nuzhat Fatima has been the Welfare and Diversity Executive Officer at Loughborough Students Union for 2016/17

Teaching Innovation Award Update: Evaluation of Project Outputs through Workshop

In the latest of the Teaching Innovation Award updates Dr Ella-Mae Hubbard and Professor Carys Siemieniuch reflect on how their project has flourished thanks to student engagement.

The project aimed to address the issue of a shortcoming in student project work by enabling students to engage with procedures in validation and verification through some new workshops.

The team is currently evaluating some of the outputs generated by the Teaching Innovation Award they secured.  The evaluation focuses on a specific new workshop that has been set up; they have completed a “baseline” to help them understand opinions prior to the workshop.  Students who have experienced previous versions of the module will also be consulted; questionnaires will take place following the lecture and workshop; and relevant module feedback will be reviewed.

The Teaching Innovation Award certainly mellaarked a new journey for the team; their project has actually led to the development of a whole new series of workshops.

The team used some principles of ‘lecture flipping’ to help design the workshops and found that moving beyond conventional, simple lectures can be really beneficial and worth the preparation required.

Dr Ella-Mae Hubbard said:  ‘We’ve certainly come a long way since we started, and I think it’s fair to say that our end point isn’t what we expected (and hopefully not actually the end point!). That’s one of the reasons we do these projects in the first place; if we knew the answers before we started, where would be the fun in investigation?’

The team look forward to following up more avenues identified by the project.


Developing Outreach and Employability through Innovative Teaching

A group of student historians from Loughborough are heading out into schools across the UK this winter on a mission to research teaching.

The staff-student collaboration project, Developing Outreach and Employability through Innovative Teaching, led by Dr.Catherine Armstrong and final-year student Lauren Porter involves students observing how history is taught in schools. Both primary and secondary teaching is under the spotlight as the students explore picwhat a teaching career in history means in reality.

To get the project going, the team created an observation logbook which allows participants to log all the observations they make. The next step involved recruiting innovative History students to take part in this new project. Various lecture shout-outs took place; a blog and social media sites were set up to contact participants. The team received plenty of interest and were delighted to welcome fifteen students to the group.

The team reported that their first project meeting was successful; it started with an ice-breaker activity and then moved onto exploring questions, such as: ‘What makes a good teacher?’ and ‘What is positive teaching practice?’ The questions aimed to stimulate independent thought and allow the participants to think about the nature of the project in more depth.

The second meeting included a presentation by CAP’s own Deena Ingham who presented various clips that tested and enhanced participants’ observation skills. Students viewed film of different teaching styles and explored what makes for good learning and crucially what stopped the learning process.  They compiled a comprehensive list of questions to ask when observing and interviewing the teachers they observe. In this way their insight into what it means to teach history will become a valuable resource for future students.

The team are excited about seeing the project develop further over the next few months, but it is already proving beneficial for several of the final-years students involved.  Lauren Porter said:  ‘The project has provided me with the confidence boost needed to teach. To recruit undergraduate participants for this project, I stood in front of lectures and spoke to students about this exciting new project. This process seemed daunting at first; however, it filled me with confidence going into my teacher training interviews and it has allowed me to be successful and gain a place starting next Autumn.’

#technoparticipation – practice-as-research

This week Loughborough’s active technology enhanced teaching practice features in an conference at Brunel University. 


Lee Campbell from the School of the Arts, English and Drama is presenting and creating research around his Teaching Innovation Award (TIA) project looking at how Skype and similar technologies can develop richer professional learning communities. skypesthelimit


Here, in the first of the blogs from TIA projects, Lee outlines how colleagues in Loughborough’s campuses can both support and get engaged with this project. If you want to use, or are using Skype in your teaching, do share your practice with Lee via his Loughborough email or via Twitter #technoparticipation

“With the support of a Loughborough University Teaching Innovation Award, I am currently engaged in a period of practice-as-research. This aims to generate new knowledge about how teachers and learners may collaboratively use Skype and advance how it may interface with other technological tools in order to expand the possibilities of the digital classroom encompassing different forms of participation and improve both teacher and learner’s digital literacy.

“I aim to play with ‘online-ness’ as a dynamic liminal space that renders the human body as transgressive, being neither wholly present nor entirely absent and uncover and exploit Skype’s performative properties to explore what participation and social communication may mean in relation to concepts relating to terms including  ‘embodied’, ‘disembodied’, ‘virtual’ and ‘physical’ etc, as well as develop my term techoparticipation, drawing together aspects of Performance within pedagogy and inserting these into the digital classroom. I am committed to helping students engage with multiple technologies to improve their digital literacy and using the learning environment as a space in which to not only reflect upon practice but to produce it.

“I am currently drawing together different practices around Loughborough University, of teaching staff using Skype in the Design School (Dr Ksenija Kuzmina and Dr Erik Bohemia), Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (Dr Borja García-García), Mathematics Education Centre (Dr Stephanie Thomas and Dr Barbara Jaworski), IT Services (Richard Goodman) and the School of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering (Dr Sheryl Williams) and I am on the lookout for more staff. So do get in touch!  Dissemination events of my project have been held at Nottingham Trent University and Brunel University.”

Keep up to date with the project using twitter hashtag #technoparticipation



Transforming the experience of students through assessment: TESTA

Focus on assessmentTESTA is a methodology designed to address assessment and feedback issues at the programme-level. It is built on a robust, triangulated research methodology with qualitative and quantitative elements, and underpinned by educational principles and research literature.

What problem is TESTA addressing?

• The disconnect between assessment innovations at the individual module level and assessment problems at the programme-level
• The imbalance between summative assessment and formative assessment
• The lack of clarity students have over understanding the goals and standards they should be orienting their overall effort towards (often a result of the QAA course specification requirements)
• The lack of co-ordinated programme-wide assessment policy and practice

The main aim of TESTA is to enhance the student learning experience from assessment by providing evidence to programme teams about assessment and feedback patterns and to help teams to identify ways of improving assessment design in the interests of better learning outcomes. The approach of TESTA has been to collect programme data, analyse and collate this into a readable case study, and engage in a conversation with the whole programme team about the findings.

TESTA has been implemented on over 100 programmes across 40 national and international universities, which reflects the level of success the approach has achieved.

The aim at Loughborough University is to pilot the approach and in light of this I am seeking to identify programmes that may be suitable. If you are interested or if you would like more information then please get in touch. h.k.basra [at]

Assessment is this month’s ‘Focus On…’ theme in the Centre for Academic Practice. Find out more here.

Academics' teaching innovation takes awards

Supporting dissertation students and improving the ways we use technology to develop learning are at the heart of this year’s 2014 Teaching Innovation Awards winning bids.

The Teaching Centre has invested a total of £18,443.26 in the winning projects to proactively enhance student learning not only in the six departments who won, but across the University. Some of the projects will support students at both Loughborough and Loughborough University in London, whilst others have potentially even wider impact for schools, other universities and in industry.

Dissertation students are a focus of the academics’ attention in two projects, whilst using technologies most effectively also emerged as a strong theme. The technologies in question range from computer aided design, session recording and remote labs to the best effect to support student learning

The 2014 Teaching Innovation Award winners in alphabetical order are:

  • Marcus Collins, Catherine Armstrong, Thoralf Klein, Paul Maddrell in PHIR for a pilot project looking at ways of supporting undergraduate dissertations.
  • Mark Jepson, Nicola Jennings, Simon Hogg for an interdepartmental project between Materials and Chemistry entitled Understanding the Art of Flipping
  • Vicky Lofthouse in Loughborough Design School for a project to create a new teaching tool for carbon footprinting for designers.
  • Jonathan Millett in Geography for a project to develop GUMCOM – the development of teaching resources to enable dissertation students to achieve greater depth and scope.
  • Abby Paterson in Loughborough Design School for a project to support learning of Computer Aided Design software.
  • Sheryl Williams and Richard Blanchard from EESE for work to evaluate student responses to and learning utilising remote, simulation and real labs.

More information from the winners and details of their projects as they emerge will be appearing on the blog in the coming months, together with updates from last year’s winners.

For more about the Awards, visit

Another award funded by the Teaching Centre to enhance teaching and learning at Loughborough is the Research Informed Teaching  Awards – applications for which close on April 28th. For details see

Not as easy as it looks…

To the people out there that sSammy's Lectureay delivering a lecture is easy, think again. I can now say this from experience! As the Graduate Intern in the Teaching Centre I’ve been involved in lots of different elements of Learning and Teaching at Loughborough and I have to say I never imagined I’d actually ever give a lecture. However, the time came when I was required to deliver a session to students on the e-portfolio tool I have been trialling called Mahara.

At first I was really quite nervous about it but of course I’m situated in the best place on campus to advise me on this! The Accredited Course team on one side, Quality Enhancement on the other and the great know-how of the E-learning team, I was always going to pull it off.

I planned my session in advance and worked out timings and lesson objectives. I created screencast tutorial videos to put on the Learn page as extra resources for them to refer to throughout the course. I also used ReVIEW and captured the session so it could be watched back for anything the students had missed.

In summary, standing in front of 100 students delivering content and trying not to talk too fast was fairly daunting, but my preparation and advice from colleagues really helped. I think my next step will be to re-watch the session and to see if there is anything I can improve on for next time!

Teaching Innovation Awards 2013

On Tuesday 11th we’re having an induction event in James France for the latest group of Teaching Innovation Award holders (those who received awards in the March round). The projects are as follows:

Eugenie Hunsicker
Irene Biza

Science/ Mathematics Education
Centre and Department of Mathematical Sciences

EDGE—Excel Data Generators and
related learning materials in statistics

Marcus Collins

Social, Political &
Geographical Sciences/ PHIR

Student Engagement in Curriculum Design

Karen Coopman

Aeronautical, Automotive and
Chemical Engineering/ Chemical Engineering

Generating an online tutorial to support engineering and physical sciences students in learning mammalian cell culture.

Mashhuda Glencross

Science/ Computer Science

Future-proofing Computer Science: Building towards a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for Loughborough University

Ella-Mae Hubbard

Carys Siemieniuch

Electronic, Electrical and
Systems Engineering

System validation and verification test rig

Melanie Ramdarshan Bold

Information Science

(Moving to Arts, English & Drama in August 2013)

Loughborough University Press:
How a student-led teaching press can lead to enterprise and employability

Andy Williams

Mechanical and Manufacturing

Understanding Students’ Interpretation of Feedback: Pilot study