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The Cambridge initiatives listed above align with recommended good practices highlighted in the sector guidance for addressing awarding gaps. The following list of key components necessary for the work on addressing awarding gaps has been adapted from the Office for Students guidance on Promoting Equal Opportunities (2020):


  • Take a whole-institution and then whole-course approach
    Approaches to tackling degree awarding gaps for racially minoritised and disabled students are embedded in all areas of work and not limited to particular departments or specific areas of policy or strategy. They span academic and professional services to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion are understood and implemented by all members of the University community.
  • Provide strong leadership
    Senior staff and coordinators of course teams within Faculties, Departments and Colleges lead by example by taking ownership and accountability for closing the degree awarding gap for black, Asian and minority ethnic students. Providing appropriate resources and embedding actions in relevant plans and policies that include targets and key performance indicators demonstrates commitment at the highest level. This is supported by commitments made in access and participation plans.
  • Use available quantitative and qualitative data to understand your students
    Review existing data and consider to what extent it enables an understanding about the causes of the awarding gap - how robust is the current data and where are the gaps? Consult with students and staff, and collate data about numbers of reasonable adjustments, or student perspectives as recorded in course-specific evaluations. Qualitative evidence is also important to understanding the experience of students and how this impacts on their progress.
  • Facilitate conversations about race and/or mental health
    Provide opportunities for students to talk about race or disability and the awarding gap. Senior leaders can set an example by opening conversations and creating safe spaces in which staff and students can talk confidently about race or mental health.
  • Develop diverse and inclusive learning environments
    The views of students can make a valuable contribution to addressing identified gaps and barriers. Staff who are confident in talking and dealing with their students on matters relating to race or mental health are considered invaluable to students’ sense of belonging and academic success. Training offered to address degree awarding gaps should be evaluated to understand how it is implemented and its impact on staff recruitment, teaching, assessment and inclusive curricula.
  • Review curriculum, teaching and learning practices
    Assess the extent to which the curriculum and teaching practices impact on racially minoritised and disabled students’ achievement and whether there is sufficient acknowledgement and understanding about this across the course team. Acknowledge and reward staff who prioritise inclusion in their practice.
  • Engage with students
    Collaboration, co-creation and co-production with students from cohorts who are most impacted by the awarding gaps is important to understanding their experiences and from there developing activities that will address the degree awarding gap. This work may be done in multiple pockets of the university, at different scales.
  • Understand what works in practice
    Interventions that are targeted, evidence-led and which avoid the ‘deficit model’ should be encouraged, and systems should be put in place to develop and evaluate innovative approaches. Dedicated time and resources should be made available for tailored interventions. Identifying and taking up relevant opportunities for collaboration, sharing resources and knowledge within and between courses and Departments can be useful.


The next section will provide examples of effective practice from within Cambridge and from other universities.


Next: What are we doing?