Differences in Student Outcomes

Successful outcomes for students are often used as a proxy for institutional quality, hence the use of good degree outcomes, or value added, in league tables. The forthcoming Teaching Excellence Framework will almost certainly look at student outcomes as a measure also. However, not all students succeed equally, and we know from our own work at StaffsUni of the gaps in attainment between different groups of students.

The recent Green Paper, as well as highlighting the possible future TEF, indicates the government’s desire to see an increase in numbers of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds as well as looking to ensure that all students can achieve.

In the light of this, last Monday I attended a HEFCE conference in London “Addressing differences in student outcomes: Developing strategic responses”, which looked at the findings of research into differential outcomes from Kings College London, and was an opportunity to hear from others in the sector on how they are tackling these issues.

Sessions attended were: the introduction by Chris Millward, Director of Policy at HEFCE; a presentation by Anna Mountford Zimnars of KCL;  a session by Sorana Vieru and Malia Bouattia  of NUS, and finally a session by Philip Plowden, DVC of University of Derby.

These are my notes of the day. Copies of the presentations can be viewed here.

Chris Millward HEFCE Director of Policy

Chris Milward started by considering where the government is on this agenda, linking the Green paper, the Treasury plan and plans from BIS.

Government wants to see a more diverse range of backgrounds in HE, in terms of entry, success and outcomes. For instance: double the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds by 2020; an increase in the number of BME students by 20% by 2020, and to the sector to address differences in outcomes.

This means more responsibility for universities together with strengthened guidance to OFFA and the potential role of the Office for Students. There is an anticipated stronger role in quality assurance processes through the impact of TEF and the future need to measure difference in outcomes based on data and metrics agreed by government. This will lead to more targeted funding together with more emphasis on meeting obligations.

The HEFCE analysis shows an attainment gap for BME students, based on A-level analysis and the more that you add in other factors, the bigger the gaps become.

In addition, when looking at POLAR3 domicile, then there are further unexplained HE outcomes.

When considering students with disability, then the data suggests that those students who received DSA support perform above average, while those without perform less well.

On postgraduate progression, there is currently an unexplained difference in outcomes based on POLAR3 quintiles.

When considering employment and looking at the 40 month survey rather than the 6 month DLHE, all POLAR3 quintiles have worse outcomes than quintile 5 and for professional employment in particular. There are worse outcomes for students with disability, irrespective of DSA and there are worse employment outcomes for all categories of BME students and particularly in professional employment. Finally on gender, men perform worse overall on employment, but better in professional employment.

The HEFCE approaches to working on closing the gaps in outcomes include:

  • National outreach programme
  • Funding for disabled
  • Supporting successful outcomes
  • Catalyst fund

ANNA MOUNTFORD ZIMNARS – KCL

Dr Zimnars presented the outcomes of major piece of research into differential outcomes, which is available here.

“Access without success is no opportunity”

The research considered three questions:

  • What is the pattern- empirical?
  • How do we explain it – causal model?
  • How do we change it effectively- policy and empirical?

The question was asked – “Do we need causality- if intervention works, does the causal model matter?”

Explained pattern of differential attainment using model that looked through a lens of macro/meso/micro  levels and at experiences of preHE, HE and postHE.

4 explanatory dimensions were proposed:

  • Curricula and learning
  • Relationships -sense of belonging probably the most important factor
  • Cultural, social and economic capital
  • Psychosocial and identity factors

From the research, which involved asking questions of a large number of institutions, the level of awareness of the issue differed across institutions, although this may be changing now, possibly due to the proposals in TEF.

In terms of those institutions that tackled the differential outcomes issues the most successfully:

  • Whole institution effect is most successful
  • Need students academics and prof services working together
  • Bottom up approaches with strategic support
  • Universal and targeted interventions

Effective interventions were seen to be:

  • Improvements to T&L
  • Inclusive learning and curricula
  • Deconstructing assessment
  • Meaningful interactions
  • Role models and mentoring
  • Engagement with institution
  • Generally few evaluations especially a lack of long term evaluations

Ended with 5 groups of recommendations

  • Evidence base
  • Raising awareness
  • Embedding agenda
  • Staff as change agents
  • Students as change agents

Sorana Vieru and Malia Bouattia  NUS

 This presentation started from a previous NUS report, Race for Equality, and went on to look at a new NUS campaign on liberating the curriculum.

From previous NUS work, 42% of students said that the curriculum did not reflect their experiences particularly in history and philosophy. As well as looking at students as being in one particular demographic group, it was important to look at intersections between groups.

Work from NUS highlighted:

  • 23% of black students described learning environment as cliquey
  • Disabled students more dissatisfied in NSS
  • 10% of trans students not willing to speak up in class
  • Black students report lower levels of satisfaction on NSS on assessment and feedback

There was a focus on liberation-equality-diversity and the launch of a new campaign – “Liberate my Degree”. An online hub has been provided with resources for officers and reps with training resources to allow them to engage in debate in their institutions and to support becoming co-creators of curriculum.

Getting there  – Helen Hathaway Philip Plowden

Speakers from University of Derby showed the pragmatic steps they have taken to challenge the gap in attainment between white and BME students.

In terms of background, the University has 28000 students, most of whom were state school sector. 20% of these self-identified as BME. The attainment gap was 24.6% in 2009-10.  The impact of the work so far is the gap has closed to 12.4% in 14-15, although there was an increase in attainment across all areas this is a moving target.

Important thing is that there is no one single answer, so there was a need to stop looking and focus on the myriad interventions and see what impact they have.

  • No magic bullet
  • Post racial inclusive approach
  • Suite of different strategies needed

Four main areas of interventions are used: Relationships, academic processes, psychological processes, and social capital.

The project at Derby explored data (down to module level) and relied on the regular Programme health checks which used a digest of metrics including attainment by ethnicity. In these, the DVC meets with programme leads to engage with course teams at chalk face. Areas covered include: outcomes,  finances reliance on clearing, and staff numbers. In particular the programme health checks looked at “spiky” degree profiles- looking at individual modules and gaps, not with an intention to play a blame game but to ask what is going right and ask others to consider that.

To support interventions, Derby developed PReSS- practical recipes for student success whch contains evaluations and case studies and can be used from: Http://uodpress.wordpress.com

The key lessons learned were:

  • No simple solution. Paralysis by analysis. Just have to crack on and do what works.
  • Learn from others
  • Post racial inclusive approach. Difficult to reconcile this with some of the morning’s talk. Is this unduly dismissive of liberation approaches
  • Importance of communication -degree of profile. But once in the mainstream it might get lost.
  • Need consistent way to measure attainment gap.
  • Important to evaluate interventions.

Points from Discussions

A lively discussion followed, and the following are just snippets of some of the topics – in some cases these reflect discussion we have had in our own institution, but I add them in almost as provocations for further debate.

  • Is there a threat to academic staff when we discuss this BME and other attainment gaps? A danger of appearing accusatory?
  • Why are there difference between subjects such as business and nursing – do cohorts have an impact? Why do the subjects with the smallest attainment gaps want to engage in the debate the most?
  • How do we check who uses the resources to support inclusive learning, and should we check?
  • How do you liberate the curriculum and how do we re-educate staff to draw on a wider range of ideas, since they are a product of their own subject and environment?
  • What about the Attainment gap for students who live at home where home life and working gets in the way of study?

Conclusions

In all, a thought provoking day. A lot of emphasis, as always on the BME attainment gap, but also more opportunity to explore attainment more generally and to recognise how this agenda will become increasingly important post-TEF.

In terms of what we could do next, then as we develop better internal metrics of modules and courses, we can start to see how we can use this information to understand better the outcomes that our students achieve. Linking this to revisions in the way in which we review our courses, both from a quality assurance and enhancement perspective, as well as a more data-centric health check would provide the opportunity to have the right discussions, to ensure that we maximise the opportunities for our students to be successful.

 

Latest WP Data

The latest data on widening participation have been published by HESA.

The latest statistics show that of all UK domiciled, young, full-time, first degree entrants in 2014/15:

  • 89.8% were from state schools. Two thirds of HE providers had over 90% state schools entrants.
  • 33.0% were from NS-SEC classes 4-7. This proportion varied from 10.0% to 58.3% across HE providers.
  • 11.4% were from low-participation neighbourhoods.

Interestingly when we look at our own university’s performance against WP by digging into the data tables, we see:

  • we recruit 99.3% of our students from state schools or colleges, against a benchmark of 96.1%
  • we recruit 47.6% of our students from SEC classes, 4,5,6 and 7 against a benchmark of 42,2%
  • 23.3% of our students come from low participation neighbourhoods, against a benchamrk of 15.1%

Looking at the raw figures would appear to show that we do a good job in recruiting and supporting WP students.

For me the questions would be though – how could we support these students better? Are there ways in which by knowing the background of our students we could tailor our personal tutoring processes Are there ways in which we need to provide additional study skills support to allow students to maximise success and minimise the chance of failure or withdrawal? Are there ways in which we could help students develop the necessary social and cultural capital during their time at university, to be able to maximise their opportunities when entering employment?

Some of these are easier to solve than others.As we begin to expose better information to personal tutors, we will be able to provide more of teh personalised support necessary. Linking this to a technology based approach that could predict the necessary interventions would be the next step. The most tricky one will be that of developing the cultural capital needed to succeed. This is where know that the advantages that come from a non-WP background play out. We’ve tried to emphasise the need for this in our current Learning and Teaching Strategy. The tricky bit is going to be about the implementation, while not making value judgements about the relative worth of different sets of cultural or social mores.

This last one counts as a wicked problem!

 

 

HESA Data Release

HESA have just published their statistical first release for student enrolments and qualifications obtained at Higher Education providers in the United Kingdom 2014/15.

This is always a useful summary, to see the size of the HE “market”, and whch subjects appear to be growing or in decline, data which of course can be cross-referenced to UCAS data releases to to see how trends in applications map to trends in enrolments.

The headline data shows nothing new – the total number of students engaged in HE study dropped by 2%, largely due to the 6% drop on part time enrolments. Part time still continues to be a problematic area for the sector.

hesa1415_chart_1

In terms of subjects, we can see how individual subject areas are growing or in decline, which should influence the way in which institutions might want to proactively manage their portfolio.

The latest information shows that the areas of growth for undergraduate study are: biological science, computer science, subjects related to agriculture, engineering and technology, with the biggest gain in creative arts and design. On the other hand, there has been a sector wide drop in enrolments at undergraduate level again in languages, but also in business, law, history and philosophy, and education.

hesa1415_chart_5

On attainment, and an area of interest in light of comments on possible grade inflation in the recent discussions around the Green Paper, HESA note that “of those gaining a classified first degree, the proportion who obtained a first or upper second has shown a steady increase from 64% in 2010/11 to 72% in 2014/15. In 2014/15, 22% gained a first class degree compared to 15% in 2010/11.”. This steady rise will be reflected in league tables of course, but importantly for my own institution, our good degree rate has risen (not to the sector average), but to a defensible level.

Looking at data n where students come from, we can see that the UK is still a desirable location for HE study. Considering English HEIs only, the data shows:

hesa14-15 domicile

Not surprisingly we see that China remains the biggest provider of students to English HEIs, and continuing drop in students from India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, while there has been a big rise in students from Hong Kong.

As always the HESA data release provides excellent background information for anyone wanting an understanding of the shape of the UK HE sector, and where the trends are in types of students, their level and mode of study, their domicile, their outcomes and the attractiveness of the various subject groups.