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  4. Understanding the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic attainment gap at the OU by means of quantitative and qualitative data analytics

Understanding the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic attainment gap at the OU by means of quantitative and qualitative data analytics

  • Project leader(s): Miriam FernandezMartin HlostaTracie Farrell
  • Theme: Access, Participation and Success
  • Faculty: STEM
  • Status: Archived
  • Dates: November 2020 to August 2022

Highly Commended at the 6th eSTEeM Scholarship Projects of the Year Awards 2023.

In this mixed-methods study, we used a set of predictive algorithms (called OUAnalyse) that we’ve developed at The Open University to understand more about how students learn. We analysed this data to see which patterns might be specific to different groups of students (including ethnicity, gender and combinations of these protected attributes). Specifically we were interested in the following:

  • Patterns of different ethnicities passing through the module milestones at different levels.
  • Patterns of when Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students withdraw as opposed to White students, as well as their reported reasons.
  • Important factors correlated with succeeding/failing different module milestones (e.g. Fee Liability Point (FLP) 1, completion, good grades)
  • The fairness of the current OUAnalyse methods regarding both false positives and negatives for different ethnicities.
  • The impact of OUAnalyse in 3 modules last year for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic /non Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students and students from different deprived areas.

Key findings were:

  • There is a significant increase in the awarding gap, for Black students in particular, after completion, both the passing gap (Completion->Pass)  and the good grade gap (Pass->Good Grade).
  • This gap can only partially be explained by socioeconomic status measured by IMD (Index of Multiple Deprivation)
  • OUAnalyse provided a benefit of decreasing the gaps, especially for lower IMD students, in three 19J modules at STEM [Hlosta et al., 2021]
  • Overall, the analysis suggests that the resulting gaps are associated with many partial and accumulating gaps rather than by the existence of one single factor

We then presented the patterns we observed to 6 Black students, as well as 6 educators from diverse backgrounds. In a series of focus groups, we asked them how we should interpret the patterns we observed. In addition, we asked them what data we might be missing, and how we can use this data to help improve the degree awarding gap at The Open University.

Key findings from students and educators were as follows:

  • The University does not prepare enough for different cultural experiences and values lead to different expectations of the University experience
  • Family responsibilities and expectations may be more significant for students from different cultural backgrounds, or who start their University journey later, increasing financial burden and limiting time. During COVID19, students who were furloughed may have had more time and attention for their studies. The decrease in the awarding gap during this time may support this as a factor. More research is needed to understand the familial and financial responsibilities of students.
  • Immigration experiences (first generation, as well as immigration background in the family) impact many aspects of the educational experience, including cultural capital brought to the learning experience and family responsibilities, as well as hostility from citizens of the host country in some cases
  • Black students and educators of diverse backgrounds experience Racism, which is an added trauma that is typically not addressed by the University and which exacerbates all of the above
  • Black students and educators of diverse backgrounds note that relationships with the University are shaped by all of the above factors impacting students’ likelihood to seek (or expect) help when needed
  • Some Black students and educators worry that The Open University degree, particularly if it is not a highly marked degree, may not be as advantageous for Black students. For studying the long-term effects of the awarding gap, an analysis of alumni might be fruitful.
Related Resources: 
File Miriam Fernandez, Martin Hlosta and Tracie Farrell.pptx430.92 KB

Project poster.