The open university s research on ethnicity and attainment
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The Open University’s research on ethnicity and attainment. John Richardson. What is the problem at the OU?. In 2002-2005, the Open University awarded classified honours degrees to 20,945 students. The ethnicity of 19,433 of these students was known.

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The Open University’s research on ethnicity and attainment

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The open university s research on ethnicity and attainment

The Open University’s research on ethnicity and attainment

John Richardson


What is the problem at the ou

What is the problem at the OU?

  • In 2002-2005, the Open University awarded classified honours degrees to 20,945 students.

  • The ethnicity of 19,433 of these students was known.

  • Only 3.7% of these were from non-White ethnic groups.

  • But the trend for Asian and Black students to be less likely to obtain good degrees was just as evident as in the national statistics.


What is the problem at the ou ctd

What is the problem at the OU, ctd.?

  • Asian students at the Open University are somewhat more likely to obtain good degrees than Asian students on part-time programmes at other universities.

  • However, Black students at the Open University are somewhat less likely to obtain good degrees than Black students on part-time programmes at other universities.


What is the problem at the ou ctd1

What is the problem at the OU, ctd.?

  • Like most other UK universities, the Open University awards different classes of honours degrees on the basis of performance on individual courses or modules.

  • Consequently, factors responsible for variations in the proportion of good degrees are likely to have affected academic attainment at the course level.


What is the problem at the ou ctd2

What is the problem at the OU, ctd.?

  • The Open University awards Grades 1-4, where Grade 1 is a distinction and Grade 4 is a bare pass.

  • In determining the class of honours degrees, the boundary between Grades 2 and 3 maps onto that between upper and lower second-class honours.

  • So Grades 1 and 2 can be regarded as “good” grades that would merit the award of a good degree.


What is the problem at the ou ctd3

What is the problem at the OU, ctd.?

  • In 2003, 132,568 students were taking undergraduate courses with the Open University.

  • The ethnicity of 116,943 of these students was known.

  • Of these, 6.8% were from non-White ethnic groups.


What is the problem at the ou ctd4

What is the problem at the OU, ctd.?

  • This is only slightly less than the proportion of adults from non-White ethnic groups in the UK (7.1%).

  • Nevertheless, it is nearly twice the proportion of Open University graduates from non-White ethnic groups (3.7%).

  • This suggests that students from non-White ethnic groups are less likely to graduate from the Open University than are White students.


What is the problem at the ou ctd5

What is the problem at the OU, ctd.?

  • Moreover, Asian and Black students were less likely to obtain good grades than White students.


What is the ou doing about it

What is the OU doing about it?

  • Statistical analysis have found that the attainment gap is not (wholly) due to differences in prior attainment.

  • Institutional surveys of graduates and current students have found that the attainment gap is not attributable

  • to variations in their ratings of their courses

  • to variations in their academic engagement

  • to variations in their approaches to studying

  • to variations in their conceptions of learning


What is the ou doing about it ctd

What is the OU doing about it, ctd.?

  • There is some evidence that plagiarism and problems with referencing are more likely to occur with ethnic minority students, though this is far from conclusive.

  • The University provides extensive resources for all students on developing good academic practices.


What is the ou doing about it ctd1

What is the OU doing about it, ctd.?

  • The Open University has a high proportion of students for whom English is not their first language.

  • Among White students, 8% of undergraduates and 20% of postgraduates fall into this category.

  • Among ethnic minority students, 50% of undergraduates and 35% of postgraduates fall into this category.


What is the ou doing about it ctd2

What is the OU doing about it, ctd.?

  • Measuring the Academic Skills of University Students is a procedure developed in the 1990s at the University of Sydney to identify students needing writing development.

  • It uses five criteria: use of source material; structure and development of text; control of academic writing style; grammatical correctness; and qualities of presentation.

  • We used this procedure with samples of coursework from students taking three distance-learning courses.


What is the ou doing about it ctd3

What is the OU doing about it, ctd.?

  • Against the different criteria, up to 47% of the students were found to be at risk of underachieving due to weaknesses in their academic writing.

  • Ethnic minority students obtained lower scores on the MASUS procedure than White students.

  • Ethnic minority students also obtained lower marks for their coursework, but this was still true when variations in their MASUS scores were taken into account.


What is the ou doing about it ctd4

What is the OU doing about it, ctd.?

  • The scores obtained on the MASUS procedure were highly correlated with the marks awarded.

  • However, the marks were mainly predicted by students’ use of source material.

  • This confirms our impression that tutors give feedback primarily on the basis of students’ understanding of key concepts rather than on the basis of use of language.


What is the ou doing about it ctd5

What is the OU doing about it, ctd.?

  • Course materials sometimes give contradictory messages about the academic use of English.

  • Addressing these issues may well enhance retention and attainment in all students.

  • But it may also help to address the attainment gap in ethnic minority students.

  • The University is developing resources for students and tutors in the area of academic English skills.


Have things changed

Have things changed?

  • I am currently working on an analysis of the results of all students who took OU courses starting in 2009. I can compare the results with my previous analysis based on all students who took OU courses in 2003.

  • The first thing to note is that the proportion of students from ethnic minorities has increased from 6.8% to 9.2%.

  • But the proportion of the adult population who are from ethnic minorities has also increased over this period.


Have things changed ctd

Have things changed, ctd?

  • Overall the course completion rate has also increased from 63.1% to 64.8%.

  • There is a statistically significant increase in every ethnic group except Chinese or Other students, who showed a slight but significant decline in their completion rate.

  • The increase in Mixed, Asian and Black students was significantly greater than in White students.

  • Nevertheless, the completion rate was significantly less in every ethnic minority group than in White students.


Have things changed ctd1

Have things changed, ctd?

  • For students who had completed their course, there was a slight decline in the pass rate from 93.5% to 93.1%.

  • The decline was similar in all ethnic groups except Asian students, who showed a slight increase in the pass rate.

  • Nevertheless, the pass rate was significantly less in every ethnic minority group than in White students.


Have things changed ctd2

Have things changed, ctd.?

  • For students who were awarded a grade between 1 and 4, there was a slight increase in the proportion awarded “good” grades (1 or 2) from 47.4% to 49.3%.

  • However, there was a slight decline in the proportion of good grades awarded in all ethnic minority groups.

  • And the proportion of students awarded good grades was significantly less in every ethnic minority group than in White students.


What does this mean

What does this mean?

  • Neither the OU nor any other institution can ensure that, other things (such as entry qualifications) being equal, the attainment of ethnic minority students will match that of White students.

  • Differences in prior qualifications only explain part of the discrepancy in attainment.


What does this mean ctd

What does this mean, ctd.?

  • Ethnic minority students are being systematically awarded grades and degrees that are poorer than one would expect on the basis of their prior qualifications.

  • We don’t know the factors that are responsible for this, but one can be confident that they have nothing to do with the ability of ethnic minority students, as evidenced by their prior qualifications.


Institute of educational technology the open university walton hall milton keynes mk7 6aa

Institute of Educational TechnologyThe Open UniversityWalton HallMilton KeynesMK7 6AA

www.open.ac.uk


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