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Reports Part of series: Race & Education: BERA Small Grants Fund research

Variation in Black students’ conceptions of academic support: A phenomenographic study

Inequalities in the educational achievement of minoritised students in higher education (HE) appear in a wide range of national contexts (Richardson, 2018), and are often attributed to structural inequalities. In the UK, research literature and public records alike point to persistent inequities before, during and after university life for students of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds. Previous education and socioeconomic status may affect attainment in HE (Smith, 2017). However, when factors such as age and entry qualifications are controlled for, the attainment gap still exists, pointing to the role of students’ experiences of the curriculum, teaching, learning or assessment (Smith, 2017; Richardson, 2015) in the outcomes they achieve.

This study, supported by BERA’s Small Grants Fund (SGF), stems from an acknowledgement that the experiences of Black students in HE in the UK have been under-researched and under-theorised. In the study, a cohort of 20 students from various disciplines within a single HE institution participated in semistructured interviews exploring their experiences of academic support. The results highlight that renewed focus is required on how curriculum design, teaching methods and assessment may affect how Black students succeed in their studies.


Report summary

The report summarises the results of a phenomenographic study on undergraduate, Black students’ conceptions of academic support. A cohort of 20 students from various disciplines within a single higher education institution participated in semistructured interviews exploring their experiences of academic support. The study identified four qualitatively different ways in which Black students conceived of academic support. Academic support was understood in terms of a) helping university students; b) ensuring student understanding of the object of learning; c) organising measures to improve student understanding and performance; and d) organising conditions for enhancing learning, wellbeing, equality and inclusion in the academic environment. The results highlight that renewed focus is required on how curriculum design, teaching methods and assessment may affect how Black students succeed in their studies. Equality, personal and social wellbeing, and respect for every student as part of the university community are discerned as intrinsic to progress, development and success. These aspects therefore should be areas of attention for higher education institutions if equitable outcomes are to be achieved for all students.

Authors

Profile picture of Mike Mimirinis
Mike Mimirinis

Associate Professor of Education at University of West London

Mike Mimirinis is an Associate Professor of education at the University of West London where he leads the doctorate of education (EdD). His research broadly explores variation in the ways students and teachers experience teaching, learning and...

Profile picture of Annita Ventouris
Annita Ventouris, Dr

Senior Lecturer in Psychology in Education at University of Hertfordshire

Dr Annita Ventouris is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education, University of Hertfordshire. She is the Programme Leader of the BA/BSc Psychology in Education and her research interests span from applications...

Profile picture of Elina Wright
Elina Wright, Dr

Visiting Senior Fellow at Bishop Grosseteste University

Dr Elina Wright works at Regent's Park College, University of Oxford. She is also Visiting Senior Fellow at the World Religions and Education Research Unit (WRERU) at Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU) in Lincoln. She is a member of the UNESCO...