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BAME university award gap may be due to exams, not coursework

The gap in university marks awarded between white and minority ethnic students in the UK may be due to exam scores and not coursework, finds an analysis of cell biology courses led by Louise Cramer. The report, published in eLife, also includes recommendations to help close the awarding gap. These include increasing funding and staff time to deliver new initiatives and monitor progress, and to do more research into the causes of the unexplained award gap. The report also recommends adjusting recruitment for early career positions in academia while the gap still exists.

Commenting on her findings, Dr Cramer said: “A significant increase in investment is still needed to enable allocation of substantially more staff time to implement existing and new recommendations to reduce the award gap, and increased funding of resources is required to speed up gap closure.” She said: “Key to reducing the gap faster will be to discover why exams appear to cause the award gap in cell biology; we do not yet know for example if it is the content of the exams or the process of taking exams. Further research will also be needed to see if the findings apply to other academic subjects. While continuing research to understand the issue, it will also be important to diversify methods of assessment and exam question types. Different students learn in different ways with different strengths, thus a more diverse assessment framework will be more inclusive.”

UCL’s work to reduce the BAME awarding gap 
UCL has been undertaking a university-wide review starting in 2018 of its own BAME awarding gap across the institution, to inform new ways of making the university more inclusive. The BAME Awarding Gap Project is running extensive analysis looking at the effects of various different kinds of assessment types, assessment load, and the move to online learning on the awarding gap. The project team is now engaging with faculties to look at the data in local contexts, while introducing a toolkit of interventions to close the awarding gap. UCL has also set up a dedicated fund to provide resources for these interventions and further evaluations, with the first round of interventions having already started.

Read the Times Higher Education feature here.

Read the Nature feature here.