Race on the Agenda (ROTA) surveyed students at all London Higher Education institutions and interviewed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Leads from ten London Universities to explore why a disproportionate number of UK-domiciled students from Global Majority (GM) and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities choose to withdraw from university.

Detailed findings will be published in the Report of the Pilot Study on Higher Education, later this month on our website.

We are happy to share some of our preliminary findings prior to publication, as follows:

Key Findings from ROTA’s Pilot Study on Student Withdrawals from Higher Education

  • Few data were available to explain why some students from GM and GRT communities chose to withdraw from university. Where respondents from individual universities knew that there was data on ethnicity, it was not recorded in sufficient detail. That which was available did not record reasons for withdrawal.
  • A sense of not belonging, mental health and wellbeing problems, a lack of diversity among academic staff, racial discrimination and financial difficulties emerged as main factors thought to influence withdrawals
  • Race Equality Charters can help universities to develop better academic support for GM and GRT students but must be backed up by specific commitment and follow-through on equality and diversity. It was of interest that some students in the survey were critical of Equality, Diversity and Inclusions measures. A closer analysis of survey data may reveal whether the universities at which these students attended had Race Equality Charters in place.
  • A lack of financial support might be a much wider problem for a wider body of students, than discussed in the interviews. For example, there is evidence that accommodation costs are becoming prohibitive for UK-domiciled students from less advantaged communities.
  • Support services were not consistent. It was reported that academics were unsure as to what they could offer students who needed help and there was a need for greater involvement of GM and GRT students in developing mental health services. Models of support which drew on the experiences and knowledge of GM students were thought by interviewees to be useful in encouraging openness and challenging stigmatising preconceptions about mental health and GM students.
  • There is difficulty in obtaining information about withdrawals, the reasons for students withdrawing, how they had fared once they had left and what kind of support they were given. It was speculated, although not confirmed, that where universities might not want to keep official data on why students left, this was not solely for reasons of confidentiality. For example, a disproportionate loss of students from some ethnic communities would not reflect well on the university’s retention or equality measures.
  • Preconceptions by some university course leaders about students from diverse ethnic backgrounds being socially, educationally or economically disadvantaged are open to question. It was observed that many Black and other minority ethnic students are just as high achievers, with the same qualifications and aspirations as their White counterparts, but there can be barriers to their progression which White students do not experience.
  • Improvements are needed in the way universities relate to GM and GRT students at an institutional level. Disaffection has been expressed by students at some Higher Education institutions with the way university authorities relate to GM and GRT students’ concerns. These concerns were reported to centre around key issues, namely lack of academic support, lack of opportunity to engage with academic staff and a disproportionate exclusion rate of GM and GRT students.

Detailed findings will be published in the Report of the Pilot Study on Higher Education, is now available HERE.

ROTA welcomes comments and feedback.