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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning

Groups of students in academical dress outside the Senate House following graduation

Cambridge's awarding gaps

The University's 2020-25 Access and Participation Plan (APP) identified 'awarding gaps' affecting the attainment and continuation rates of particular cohorts of undergraduate students; these are 'gaps' which exist after controlling for a range of variables such as socioeconomic background, prior attainment, etc. The two groups with the most significant awarding gaps, which the University has committed to eliminating by 2025, are Black British students and disabled students with declared mental health conditions.

We use the term 'awarding gap' rather than 'attainment gap' to recognise that the issue is an institutional one, rather than a student deficit or capability issue. Recent research (UK Universities 2019) identifies the gap between a student's predicted outcome and eventual attainment as something that develops during a student's course of study: thus the responsibility lies with the institution.

The full set of APP Research Papers outlining Cambridge's admissions data and degree outcomes is available on the Cambridge Admissions Office website.


Understanding the gaps

To understand what specific learning, teaching, assessment or curriculum interventions might have a positive impact on student progression and achievement, the Cambridge Centre for Teaching & Learning was tasked with undertaking the qualitative research and analysis strand of the APP work, to investigate the educational issues that might underlie Cambridge's awarding gaps.

This was realised as the APP Participatory Action Research Project, a student-staff partnership researching and analysing the drivers and intersections behind the gaps.


Eliminating the gaps

The University has a collective commitment to eliminate these awarding gaps, and attention is required even where individual course cohort sizes are too small for statistical analysis. Three resources have been established to support staff across the collegiate University in investigating, understanding and addressing awarding gaps:

  • Mind the Gap Toolkit: informed by the workshops, the Toolkit includes examples of practice, frequently-asked questions and a set of self-evaluation tools.
  • Awarding Gaps Consultation Team: designed to assist course teams within Faculties and Departments to address awarding gaps experienced by their students.