What is broken: an exploration of the factors affecting the attainment of BME students

  • Jaswinder Sekhon

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The 1950s and 1960s witnessed a period of mass immigration to the UK from former colonies. One of the outcomes of this inward migration was that the children of immigrants entered the UK higher education (HE) systems in order to maximise their life opportunities. Despite their entrance in HE, there is a body of evidence showing that an educational attainment gap at degree level exists between BME students and their White counterparts, even when at the point of entry BME students and their counterparts have nearly identical entry grades, hence showing they are equally equipped. The shortfall between the performance of BME and White students has implications for the sector and society per se.

So that a better understanding for the rationale of the degree attainment gap could be gained, adding to the quantitative research demonstrating this gap, 20 qualitative research interviews amongst first and second generation university attendees were completed. To support this work, a case based study approach at Coventry University was undertaken which enabled a deeper understanding of the reasons for specific attainment.

The research findings reveal that a number of factors have an influence. The factors are external, namely previous experience at school and the route taken to reach HE, course aspects in relation to the one that is chosen and teaching staff. Internal factors centre on attitudes and aspirations, peers and the individual’s knowledge of HE. The final area to emerge is a middle ground, the image of the institution and its ability to make students feel welcome.

Educationalists can do little to influence external factors; however, institutions must take action, through curricular changes, course materials and attitudes of tutors, to minimise their negative impact upon attainment. Attainment statistics demonstrate that the gap has started to reduce; however, it still needs addressing further as degree attainment has the ability to impact individuals’ lives and their employment opportunities. Institutional actions can improve the attainment of all HE students.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorDavid Morris (Supervisor)


  • higher education
  • HE
  • BME students
  • student attainment

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