Now is the time to end awarding gaps in UK universities

Guest post by Mark Clark (Senior Lecturer in Management)

Since 2015, Mark has been based at the University of Sussex as a Senior lecturer in the Business School within the Management department. During this time, he has achieved SFHEA and CMBE status in recognition of the senior level and leadership contributions, has made an ongoing commitment to continuous professional development of teaching and learning practices and ever higher standards. Mark has been involved in leading research in the Business School to better understand the complex factors that lie behind what is referred to as the BAME awarding gap alongside other EDI initiatives aimed at tackling this issue. 

The experience of feeling culturally isolated and anxious in seminars, feeling alienated in accommodation, having to explain why the unwanted touching hair is wrong, being unable to speak openly about how the daily issues people of colour experience affects mental health.

These are just a few of the many findings reported by students of colour in research undertaken by the Business School in 2020-21.

How did we get here?

The awarding gap of ‘good’ (First and 2:1) degrees between white students and students of colour (SoC) is longstanding and widespread in UK higher education (formally referred to as the BAME* awarding gap). The University of Sussex Business School’s (USBS) gap is 12.6% in the most recently available data. We are duty bound to rectify this and our research with our students of colour (SoC) in the school is a significant step.

The research

The research is a response to a call for action from leading higher education sector bodies to engage directly with their SoC communities, notably University UK’s, ‘Closing the gap’ report of 2019. The report highlighted a dearth of research of this type. Following the development of a research proposal, USBS’s Senior management team, agreed to a fund our research in November 2019. It was led by myself with Prof. Jacqueline O’Reilly and Dr. Ann McDonald, a specialist, independent researcher. We aimed to better understand the institutional, and other, factors affecting SoC and their sense of belonging, because belonging in turn affects attainment (EHRC 2019). The project commenced in March 2020 following ethics approval.

The research team included three SoC studying UG & PG courses in the school at the time. The student-researchers were paid and provided with training. Their insights proved invaluable, for example when contributing to the survey question design.

In all 76 surveys were completed by SoC in the School and 31 in-depth interviews via Skype because of the March 2020 lockdown. Each student-researcher conducted one interview and analysis with Ann’s supervision.

Key findings and outputs

One of the many key findings, also reported by the School’s excellent Race equity advocates, Arunima Singh, Gurbir Kaur Matharu and Ife Rotimi, is the urgent need for a trustworthy and transparent tool to report cases of discrimination, harassment and bullying. In the summer of 2021, the University introduced a Report and Support tool.

It demonstrates that through collaborative partnerships with SoC we can make meaningful progress towards a more inclusive school and university. This progress is set to continue with the Business school’s forthcoming Race Equity Plan led by the School’s Director of EDI and Associate Dean for Education and Students.

We have also developed the Race Equity Awareness site for all in the Business School. To instill inclusivity in to all that we do, we work closely with colleagues in the Student experience, Student Support and Careers and entrepreneurial teams and with students themselves of course.

What next?

If you want to be part of a more inclusive university there are plenty of ways to get involved. A good starting point is to read the full research report which is accessible via the Business schools Race Equity Awareness site.

*BAME is Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and is the official UK term for data classification purposes. However, use of the term is highly contested (Gabriel, 2020) In this research and accompanying report we use the designation Students of Colour (SoC).


Clark, M., McDonnell, A., Joy Valentine, S., Lui, Y., Trought, M., O’Reilly, J. and Hattersley Mitchell, C. (2021) Closing the Awarding Gap: Students of Colour Perceptions of Learning, Support and Cultural Environments at the University of Sussex Business School. University of Sussex Business School. Available at: Closing the Awarding Gap.pdf (accessed: 22/11/2021).

EHRC (2019) Tackling Racial Harrasment: Universities Challenged. EHRC. Available at: Tackling racial harassment: Universities challenged ( (accessed: 22/11/2021).

Gabriel, D. (2020) Racial Categorisation and Terminology. Available at: Racial Categorisation and Terminology | Black British Academics (accessed: 22/11/2021).

Universities UK (2019) Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment at UK universities: closing the gap. Universities UK. Available at: bame-student-attainment.pdf ( (accessed: 22/11/2021).

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