Every year the Students’ Union at the University of Wolverhampton hold an attainment summit. The summit aims to involve staff and students in working together to develop ways to enhance student attainment and to reduce differential degree outcomes.
I am rather attached to the attainment summits as they came out of a meeting with the Students’ Union about the DiSA Project and WhatWorks at Wolves? The summits were launched in 2013 and there have been four summits in total. The early summits focused on BAME student attainment, however the latest summit, whilst focusing on BAME student attainment, has also recognised that there are differential degree outcomes for other students groups. I was heavily involved in the early summits, but now they are led by the SU which has given them more power to generate change. I am very grateful to still be part of the events and have presented at each of the summits. On the whole I have given an overview of the University’s work in this area as well as discussing research that I’ve been involved in that offers some insight into what we could do to make a difference. This has included:
- The findings of the Disparities in Student Attainment Project (DiSA) which advocates that there are four areas that can impact on student attainment and appeared to impact more on students from BAME backgrounds. These are relationships (e.g. learning relationships and belongingness), pedagogical issues (e.g. understanding assessment requirements), psychosocial aspects (e.g. stereotype threat, lecturers as interlocutors) and social & cultural capital (e.g. having relevant role models in the academy, knowing the rules of academic engagement or mastering transitions into and through HE).
- What Works at Wolves (UoW’s contribution to the HEA’s What Works 2) which provides a qualitative evaluation with staff and students, and a quantitative evaluation between and within modules over time, of a student led assessment unpacking initiative.
- A Pre-expectations of Higher Education study, that identified 10 gaps in expectations between students entering higher education and the lecturers who are teaching them.
- The University of Wolverhampton Belongingness Study, that found that there is a difference in the experience of belonging between BAME students and their white counterparts; that black males have a lower sense of belonging than other groups of students and that there is a dip in the student belongingness at level 5 which is more exaggerated for students under the age of 21.
This year I discussed some work I have been involved with that considers student misconduct. Across the country BAME students form the majority of students involved in the conduct and appeals system despite, in most cases, being in the minority in the academy. Through a context analysis and discourse analysis of misconduct hearings, we considered what students were telling us and what that meant with regard to their experience of Higher Education. Not surprisingly, this work identified all four of the areas that DiSA identified (relationships, aspects of pedagogy, psychosocial issues and social and cultural capital) were also evident in misconduct hearings.
Amongst other things, students who are involved in misconduct hearings often:
- do not have relationships with people, in particular their lecturers, at the University,
- don’t have a sense of belonging to the University community,
- struggle with the transition into and through HE,
- struggle with the assessment point,
- demonstrate issues with academic skills
- do not understand the University support systems, both in terms of extensions, mitigating circumstances and leave of absence, and the skills and development support that the university offers.
The project identified quite a complex picture of triggers and vulnerabilities that could be looked out for in supporting students, which could also explain why students from BAME backgrounds are involved in the conduct and appeals system. I’m currently writing up this work, so look out for publications in the near future.