The problem is here and now – assessing current student attainment gaps to inform change to institutional student experience provision

Sandeep Gakhal, Caroline Wilson

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


This study aimed to better understand the persistent attainment gap between disadvantaged groups of students and their peers. Differences in student attainment according to various characteristics, including ethnicity and socio-economic background, have been widely reported and remain a persistent problem. For example white students, compared to black and Asian students are more likely to achieve higher degree outcomes . Young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, compared to those from higher socio-economic backgrounds, on average, are also more likely to withdraw from their studies, less likely to either complete their degree or graduate with an upper second or first class degree . Research has shown that such student characteristics can be used to identify and support vulnerable students early on, in order to improve degree outcomes .

To date, efforts to measure and close the attainment gaps between different groups of students have been reliant on using historical and national datasets . However, this does not allow for identification of tailored adjustments and improvements to be made for currently enrolled students at a given institution. Near real-time analysis of the attainment gaps between different groups of students at three Midlands universities provided robust quantitative evidence of attainment gaps that were emerging in the first year of study. This in turn enabled each institution to attempt to close such gaps as students’ progress through university while also gaining insights into improving outcomes for future first year students. The analysis was based upon student outcomes, as measured by a student’s first year weighted average mark (taking into account the credit value of each module studied in the first year) and how this differs according to various student characteristics.

The academic performance of first year university students was investigated after controlling for the effects of various student characteristics (such as age, ethnicity and UCAS tariff scores). Previous qualification type and ethnicity remained a significant factor across three of the HE institutions (that were able to complete the analysis) even after controlling for the effects of the different student characteristics. This indicates that similar structural inequalities are likely to exist within all three institutions (chosen for their similar positive approach to widening participation). The findings also provided each institution the localised insights required to address shortcomings in institutional processes when designing and implementing interventions specifically targeted at closing the attainment gap among different groups of students.

The analysis was undertaken by Caroline Wilson and Sandeep Gakhal based within the Research Centre for Global Learning: Education and Attainment (GLEA) at Coventry University. It was conducted as part of the DRIVER project, which is one of 17 projects funded as part of the Office for Students’ (OfS) Addressing Barriers to Success (ABSS) programme , recognising that not all students in higher education have an equal chance to succeed in their studies, secure graduate-level employment or pursue further study.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2019
EventMeasuring Excellence in Higher Education: Approaches and their Impact - University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Sept 201913 Sept 2019


ConferenceMeasuring Excellence in Higher Education: Approaches and their Impact
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • disparities in student attainment
  • higher education
  • first year students
  • equity of opportunity


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