The long-term sustainability of projects like RAFA2 will be determined by how they perform once the funding has ended. The main ingredient necessary for sustainability is a firm commitment to eliminating the BAME attainment gap. This begins by making it a top priority. Only then will the necessary resources be allocated to it, the strategies be identified, cascaded and operationalised and the work to improve the outcomes for all students as normal practice happen.
Five year plan
Office for Students (OfS) Access and Participation Plan that universities are producing for the next five years, provides an idea platform to embed the findings of RAFA2. Universities are charged with setting ambitious targets to eliminate the BAME attainment gap by 2024/25. The solutions suggested by RAFA2 go a long way to helping them achieve this.
RAFA2 identifies the need for a universal acceptance and awareness of the disparity of educational outcomes by ethnicity in Higher Education (HE). Whilst this responsibility lies in the hands of everyone at the institution, there should be a particular focus and expectation on senior leadership, and those who shape and frame the policy on BAME disparity, to lead the crusade for this awareness and acceptance.
Role of staff
Furthermore, there should be an understanding from staff that their role is central to the students’ teaching, learning and assessment process; with this comes the acknowledgement that academics make the learning situation and so, therefore, they can change it. This understanding can be further deployed through a co-creation process with staff and BAME students in academic materials, content, pedagogy and research.
Another key message from RAFA2 is the identified need for BAME attainment to be prioritised and the progress monitored and reported on as part of an accountability process which, for intrinsic reasons, meet the institution and the sector’s core values above and beyond what is required for Quality Assurance Agency purposes – and the requirements of the OfS.
There should also be a sector-wide acceptance that with a change in approach to tackling the disparity in educational outcomes for ethnicity, time also needs to be allocated for Schools, departments and programmes to make changes and revisions, and formally document them.
The project’s lessons and outcomes have identified that in order to address the disparity of educational outcomes for BAME students, this needs to be conceived as a whole system approach and not one of specific instances. Without this commitment, these racial inequalities in attainment and experience will persist.
RAFA2 also identified the need for there to be clear evaluation metrics that assess the impact and efficiency of change on BAME student academic outcomes. This is something that will be of most impact if assessed at sector level. This will contribute to evidence-based models of change that can be formally audited and be part of long-term actions tasked with creating and developing change. Alongside the metrics approach, the creation of a dashboard in the institution should be considered and used to examine student academic attainment by ethnicity, with an understanding that this should not become the sole measure of educational process and product.
An important success for the RAFA2 project was the space that was created for staff and students to have “Race Talk” in an open environment. The project concluded that this space is crucial to address the attainment gap and ensure that it continues to depreciate.
Another message that emerged from RAFA2 was the need for there to be a formal recognition of the emotional labour and impact on BAME students who participate in these activities. BAME students occupy racialised bodies with racialised identities that are ascribed and given, and higher education is not colour-blind nor race neutral, therefore the provider and the sector, when working to tackle these inequalities, should ensure there are mechanisms in place to support these students and help them cope with the stresses they may encounter.
The project’s lessons and outcomes have identified that in order to address the disparity of educational outcomes for BAME students, this needs to be conceived as a whole system approach and not one of specific instances. Without this commitment, these racial inequalities in attainment and experience will persist. As the project has acknowledged, as the mechanisms have been understood and well-documented, the responsibility now lies with each member of academic staff to make the change.
Image credit: Ross Findon