12th Aug, 2022 Sports


Over the past decade, the attainment gap between white and ethnic minority students has remained significant with Black students consistently less likely to achieve a good pass than any other racial groups. This picture is broadly similar across the higher education sector, and has shown very little movement over time.

In the last few years, the Open University (OU) has taken initiatives alongside others (e.g. Equality Challenge Unit; Higher Education Academy) to tackle this issue. As yet, it has not been able to reduce the gap significantly. In effect, the equality information gathered by the OU in 2011/12 is very similar to the information gathered in 2009/10 and shows that the gap between Black and White students achieving a ‘good pass’ is about 30 percent.

The OU is committed to do everything it can to respond to this continuing challenge. Thus, the University has committed to reduce the ethnicity attainment gap between White and Black students that obtain a ‘good pass’ on undergraduate degrees from 28.8 percent in 2009/10 to 25.8 percent by 2014/15 as part of its equality objectives to support compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Action Taken

In 2013, the OU participated in a collaborative project with the Higher Education Academy and seven other universities, with each university taking a different approach in order to learn from each other and to identify interventions that are effective to a greater or lesser extent. The OU project ‘Great Expectations’ focused on the effect that tutors’ expectations can have on how they behave and interact with students, and how this in turn can affect students’ engagement, competence and confidence in their own abilities and aspirations.

In the project, around 100 tutors attended workshops and were introduced to the potential impact of expectations and how micro-affirmations can help students to increase their engagement, competence and confidence. The workshops were supplemented by a comprehensive online learning resource, which provides a more detailed theoretical underpinning and further practical resources.

The ‘great expectations’ project is one action the OU is taking to address the ethnicity attainment gap. Other actions include research into how unconscious bias may affect tutor feedback and allocation of marks, investigating the introduction of student or alumni online peer-mentoring, and refreshing English language resources for the large number of OU students who have limited recent experience of using English for study purposes.


Tutors’ awareness of the impact of their expectations and subsequent behaviours is being raised and they are being given tools to strengthen engagement and develop students’ competences in key tasks.

The resources are being made widely available to the OU’s 5,500 tutors in 2014.

At the time of writing, it is too early to evidence the impact in quantitative outcomes. Evaluation is taking place over a number of years of student outcome data as the benefits are expected to be realised beyond the first year.