SLMS Academic Careers Office
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Grand Challenges

33. Shedding light on the ethnic attainment gap: The influence of intercultural relations on students’ learning and performance

Supervisor Pair: Dr Katherine Woolf and Dr Henry Potts
Potential Student’s Home Department: UCL Medical School

Across universities and disciplines, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) ‘home’ students achieve lower grades than their white counterparts. Individual factors (e.g. previous attainment, deprivation) do not explain this ethnic attainment gap. We have previously found evidence of ethnically “segregated” (students’ words) student bodies; stereotyping of minority students; that students’ friends influenced their academic performance; and that students with more diverse friendships achieved higher grades. These patterns of friendships could explain the attainment gap by shedding light on the experiences of diverse students, and what can be done to support BME students achieving.

The project will use the new methods of quantitative and qualitative social network analysis (SNA) to understand how students’ social relations – with each other and the institution – affect experiences and attainment. We have carried out a baseline social network study of UCL medical students. The current project will follow this group, providing longitudinal data on how and why inter-ethnic friendships are formed and dissolved, and the influence this has on attainment. The study will involve interviews with students and statistical techniques used in social network analysis.

This project will help institutions understand barriers to intercultural understanding and how to overcome them by developing learning environments that support positive intercultural staff and student relations, and support BME students to achieve their potential. It will also develop methods and theory in social networks and higher education.