Higher Education

, Volume 66, Issue 5, pp 535–550 | Cite as

Should high non-completion rates amongst ethnic minority students be seen as an ethnicity issue? Evidence from a case study of a student cohort from a British University



This paper examines the question of how the high non-completion rates found amongst ethnic minority students in UK higher education should be interpreted. US studies examining the nexus between academic performance, ethnicity and social background have concluded that ethnicity-related performance differences are not just the by-product of social class. This study examines the nature of these linkages in the UK where the composition of the ethnicity mix and the nature of the socioeconomic environment are both markedly different from the US. The paper is based on a detailed case study of a cohort from a UK university that recruits a high proportion of its students from ethnic minority backgrounds. Prima facie evidence is found which questions the assumption that the under-performance of minorities should be treated predominantly as an ethnicity issue. It is found that after controlling for socioeconomic background, minority student non-completion rates are found to be very similar to those of their White peers. Further evidence is also uncovered which suggests that in practice there are considerable complexities in the ways in which ethnic differences impact on non-completion rates. From an educational policy perspective, it is argued that more effective results might be obtained if student support initiatives aimed at reducing the non-completion rates among minority student place a greater emphasis on issues relating to their socioeconomic background.


Non-completion Ethnic minority Socioeconomic 


  1. Bennett, R. (2003). Determinants of undergraduate student drop-out rates in a university business studies department. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 27(2), 123–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berkner, L., He, S., & Cataldi, E. F. (2002). Descriptive summary of 199596 beginning postsecondary students: Six years later (NCES 2003-151). US Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  3. Berry, J., & Loke, G. (2011). Improving the degree attainment of Black and minority ethnic students. Equality Challenge Unit and The Higher Education Academy research report. Online at: http://www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/improving-attainment-of-BME-students. Access date: 15/04/2011.
  4. Bowden, R., & Wilcox P. (2008). Helping students onto the right path: analysis into student retention at the University of Brighton. Online at: http://www.solent.ac.uk/irconference/resources/bowdenwilcox.ppt. Access date: 15/10/2012.
  5. Broecke, S., & Nicholls, T. (2007). Ethnicity and degree attainment. Research report RW92, London: Department for Education and Skills.Google Scholar
  6. Charles, C. Z., Fischer, M. J., Mooney, M. A., & Massey, D. S. (2009). Taming the river: Negotiating the academic, financial, and social currents in selective universities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Connor, H., Tyers, C., Modood, T., & Hillage, J. (2004). Why the difference? A closer look at higher education minority ethnic students and graduates. Research report research report 552, London: Department for Education and Skills.Google Scholar
  8. Davies R., & Elias P. (2003). Dropping out: A study of early leavers from higher education. Research report 386, London: Department for Education and Skills.Google Scholar
  9. Dwyer, C., Modood, T., Sanghera, G., Shah, B., & Thapar-Bjorkert, S. (2006). Ethnicity as social capital? Explaining the differential educational achievements of young British Pakistani men and women. Presented at: ‘Ethnicity, Mobility and Society’ Leverhulme Programme Conference at University of Bristol, 16–17 March, 2006.Google Scholar
  10. Entwistle, N., & Wilson, J. (1977). Degrees of excellence. London: Hodder.Google Scholar
  11. Equality Challenge Unit. (2010). Equality in higher education: Statistical report 2010. London: Equality Challenge Unit.Google Scholar
  12. Espenshade, T. J., & Radford, A. W. (2009). No longer separate, not yet equal: Race and class in elite college admission and campus life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Gittoes, M. (2003). Schooling effects on higher education achievement. HEFCE research report, available online at: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/Pubs/hefce/2003/03_32.htm#exec. Access date: 09/04/2011.
  14. Gittoes, M., & Thompson, J. (2007). Admissions to higher education: Are there biases against or in favour of ethnic minorities? Teaching in Higher Education, 12(3), 419–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Goldrick-Rab, S., & Roksa, J. (2008). A federal agenda for promoting student success and degree completion. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.Google Scholar
  16. Jacobs, S., Owen J., Sergeant P., & Schostak J. (2007). Ethnicity and gender in degree attainment: An extensive survey of views and activities in English HEIs. HEA/ECU Research report. Online at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/projects/detail/. Access date: 1/5/2011.
  17. Higher Education Academy. (2009). Making sense of black and minority ethnic student learning experiences. HEA Research Seminar Series, Online at: www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/RSS09_Teesside_BriefingPaper.do. Access date: 15/10/2012.
  18. Jencks, C., & Phillips, M. (1998). The black-white test score gap. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  19. Kane, T. J. (1998). Racial and ethnic preferences in college admissions. In C. Jencks & M. Phillips (Eds.), The black–white test score gap (pp. 431–456). Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  20. Khattab, N. (2009). Ethno-religious background as a determinant of educational and occupational attainment in Britain. Sociology, 43(2), 304–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lutz, A. (2007). Barriers to high-school completion among Immigrant and later-generation Latinos in the USA. Ethnicities, 7(3), 323–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Malamud, D. C. (1996). Class-based affirmative action: Lessons and caveats. Texas Law Review, 74(7), 1847–1900.Google Scholar
  23. Modood, T. (2006). Ethnicity, Muslims and higher education entry in Britain. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(2), 247–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Murphy, E. (2010). Student non-continuation rates in Northern Ireland and the UK. Research and Library Service Briefing Paper, Northern Ireland Assembly, NIAR 588-2010.Google Scholar
  25. National Audit Office. (2007). Staying the course: the retention of students in higher education. Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. London: The Stationary Office.Google Scholar
  26. Ozga, J., & Sukhnandan, L. (1998). Undergraduate non-completion: developing an explanatory model. Higher Education Quarterly, 5(2), 316–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Powdthhave, N., & Vingoles, A. (2008). The socio-economic gap in University Drop Out. Available online at: http://www.tlrp.org/dspace/handle/123456789/1280. Access date: 01/02/2011.
  28. Ramsden, B. (2005). Participation in higher education: A study to determine whether the higher education initial participation rate should be disaggregated. Research report 676, London: Department for Education and Skills.Google Scholar
  29. Reay, D., Crozier, G., & Clayton, J. (2010). “Fitting in” or “standing out”: working-class students in UK higher education. British Educational Research Journal, 32(1), 1–19.Google Scholar
  30. Rodgers, T. (2007). Measuring value added in higher education: A proposed methodology for developing a performance indicator based on economic value added to graduates. Education Economics, 15(1), 55–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rodgers, T., & Thandi, S. (2010). The impact on BME attainment and progression of student engagement: A study of level 1 economics, finance and accounting students. Coventry University Research Report.Google Scholar
  32. Roksa, J. (2012). Race, class and bachelor’s degree completion in American higher education: Examining the role of life course transitions. In L. Wiess & N. Dolby (Eds.), Social class and education: Global perspectives. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Shiner, M., & Modood, T. (2002). Help or hindrance? Higher education and the route to ethnic equality. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 23(2), 209–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Steele, C. M. (2010). Whistling vivaldi and other clues to how stereotypes affect us. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  35. Yorke, M. (1999). Leaving early: Undergraduate non-completion in HE. London: Falmer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Zimdars, A. K. (2007). Testing the spill-over hypothesis: Meritocracy in enrolment in postgraduate education. Higher Education, 54(1), 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Business and EnvironmentCoventry UniversityCoventryUK

Personalised recommendations