The number of UK-domiciled black and minority ethnic (BME) students starting full-time first degrees increased by 9.1 per cent in 2015-16 compared with the previous year. This makes an increase of 34 per cent since 2010-11; by contrast the number of white students increased by 5.5 per cent over the same period.
The largest increase has been from Asian students. There was a 10 per cent annual increase in the number of UK-domiciled students of Asian ethnicity in 2015-16, compared with an increase of 8.0 per cent of black students and a decrease of 3.9 per cent of students of Chinese ethnicity.
Overall, BME students were 29 per cent of all entrants to full-time first degrees in 2015-16, despite these groups making up just 18 per cent of the 15-year-old population in the 2011 census in England.
However, while the participation rates of students from minority ethnicities have been increasing, the outcomes for these groups of students often lag behind those of white students.
Most strikingly, non-white students are less likely to achieve a first or upper second class degree. Controlling for entry qualifications, black students are between six and 28 percentage points less likely than white students to get a higher classification degree, while Asian students are between three and 17 percentage points less likely.
The differences exist at all levels of entry qualifications, so are even apparent among students who enter higher education with very high prior attainment.
The rates at which UK-domiciled students leave their first degree after one year also vary across ethnic groups, although the rates for BME students have improved in recent years relative to the rates for white students.
Chinese students have the lowest rates of non-continuation, while the rate for Asian students has converged towards that for white students. The difference between white and black students has also narrowed over the past two years, but the non-continuation rate for black students, 10.3 per cent for 2014-15 entrants, remains 3.4 percentage points higher than the rate for white students.