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  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • Data sources and definition of cohort
  • Entrant profiling
  • Student progression within higher education
  • Attainment
  • Degree classification
  • Annex A Flow charts split by ethnicity
  • Annex B Modelling results
  • List of abbreviations

Executive summary


1. This report compares, by ethnicity, the characteristics of the UK-domiciled entrants to full-time, first degree courses in 2002-03 and their progression routes through their first degree studies.

2. We do not try to examine the significant body of work that has already been done on ethnicity issues within higher education but aim to build on it by presenting new data via tracking a cohort of first degree entrants through their studies.

Key points


3. Unless otherwise referenced, the cohort of entrants discussed in this summary section consists of UK-domiciled entrants to full-time, first degree study in 2002-03.

Entrant profiling

4. The percentage of youngsee note 1 UK entrants who were from a minority ethnic background increased steadily from 1996-97 to 2002-03 and this trend continued to 2006-07, with an overall increase of seven percentage points. A similar trend was seen for mature entrants.

5. In 2002-03, at least 20 per cent of young entrants in each minority ethnic group came from London and studied in London, compared to just 3 per cent of White entrants.

6. Black entrants were older on average on entry in 2002-03: 43 per cent of Black entrants were 21 or over in 2002-03 compared with rates of around 20 per cent or under for all other ethnic groups.

7. Black, Chinese, Pakistani and Bangladeshi young entrants were found to be more likely to come from low-participation areas compared to White entrants and those from other minority ethnic backgrounds.

8. Of students with known entry qualifications, a lower proportion of Black students entered with A-levels compared to entrants from other ethnic groups: 81 per cent for young students and 10 per cent for mature.

9. More White young entrants stay in institution-maintained accommodation in their year of entry than entrants from other ethnicities.

10. More Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi entrants study at institutions with lower entry qualification profiles than White and other minority ethnic entrants.

11. Minority ethnic entrants are concentrated in a smaller number of institutions compare to White entrants, who are distributed more evenly across the sector.

First year continuation

12. For both mature and young entrants, the first-year continuation rates varied between the different ethnic groups. For example, among young entrants, 88 per cent of Chinese entrants continued into their second year, compared to 86 per cent of White entrants, 82 per cent of Black entrants and 79 per cent of Pakistani and Bangladeshi entrants.

13. However the varying student profiles (in terms of subject area of study, the qualifications of the student on entry and whether they were studying at a London institution) of the different ethnic groups account for many of the differences seen.

First degree qualification

14. The analysis found that young, minority ethnic students take longer to complete their studies. This was driven by two main factors:

  1. A greater proportion of young White students qualified in their expected final year (based on course length on commencement) than young finalists from other ethnic groups.
  2. However, despite differences in the proportion of finalists that qualified in their expected final year, there were only small differences in the proportion of finalists who left higher education eventually without a first degree award. This was because the rates of students who continued on the same course or changed to another course were much higher for many of the minority ethnic groups than the White group.

15. Among mature students, White finalists were more likely to qualify with a degree than finalists from other ethnic groups: 89 per cent of mature White final-year students qualified, compared to 81 per cent of mature Indian, Chinese and other Asian finalists, and 75 per cent of mature Black finalists.

16. The variations in these rates are not entirely accounted for through the variation in different student profiles for the different ethnic groups.

Degree classification

17. There was a large difference between the different ethnic groups in the proportion of young final-year students awarded a first or upper second class degree. White finalists had a rate 25 percentage points higher than the rate for Black finalists, and 20 percentage points higher than Pakistani and Bangladeshi finalists. Some, but not all, of these differences can be explained by the differing profiles of the students.

18. In terms of mature students, 25 per cent of Black final-year students were awarded a first or upper second class degree, compared to 29 per cent of Pakistani and Bangladeshi finalists and 61 per cent of White finalists. As with the young students, even when the profile is taken into account, there are substantial differences between the ethnic groups.

Action required

19. No action is required in response to this document.


  1. 'Young' students are those aged under 21 on entry; 'mature' students are those aged 21 and over.
Enquiries should be directed to:

Mark Gittoes, tel 0117 931 7052, e-mail