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Enhancing the academic and post-graduate success of Muslim students in higher education

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Published: 10/08/16

Today the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report on their inquiry into the barriers and discrimination faced by Muslims in the UK and how these can be overcome. The report highlights the economic disadvantages faced by Muslims who, of all religious groups, have the lowest employment rate at 47.2%, and the highest pay gap earning 22.5% less than those of no religion. The inquiry found that 'the reasons behind this to be varied and complex. They include: discrimination and Islamophobia, stereotyping, pressure from traditional families, a lack of tailored advice around higher education choices, and insufficient role models across education and employment'.

As part of the inquiry I was invited to give both oral[1] and written[2] evidence focused on the under-representation of Muslim students in Russell Group universities, the attainment of Muslim students in higher education, and the possible implications of both under-representation and under-attainment for equitable post-graduate employment. My evidence drew on the existent research literature as well as my own research with Muslim students, including those studying in Russell Group universities.

Offering systematic evidence on Muslim students' access, retention and attainment in higher education, as opposed to that of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students more broadly is, however, problematic. The data on religious students in higher education is not robust and providing data to the Higher Education Statistics Agency on the religion and belief of students (or staff) is not compulsory, unlike that relating to age, sex, race or disability.  What we do know, however, is thatthe ethnic degree attainment gap in the UK is 15.2 percentage points - that is 75.6% of white students graduating in the 2013/14 academic year received a first/2:1 compared with 60.4% of Black and Minority ethnic (BME) students. Since Muslim students are, almost exclusively, also BME students,ipso facto, their attainment is below that of White students.

As access to high-status post-graduate employment is frequently predicated on gaining a 1st or upper second class degree it is not difficult to see the direct link between attainment and post graduate outcomes. Indeed since 70% of graduate employers now demand at least a 2:1, regardless of any other factors, Muslim post-graduate students will be under-represented in graduate level jobs. As my research has evidenced[3], the causes of the attainment gap are multiple and complex.

My recommendations to the committee were:

1.    That more robust data needs to be captured on the access, retention and success of Muslim (and other religious) students

2.    That institutions need to be held to greater account in terms of addressing the under attainment of Black and Minority ethnic, including Muslim, students

3.    That employers need to be strongly encouraged to recruit from a wider university and thus wider student base.

4.    That support needs to be given to universities to explore how they recognise and supportreligious students on the secular campus

It is gratifying, therefore, to see that the report makes nineteen recommendations to tackle disadvantage, of which all of my recommendations were to a lesser or greater extent included.

The report concludes that the Government’s commitment to tackling disadvantage for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people must be coupled with a coherent cross-Government strategy focused on specific groups, including Muslims, and recommends that a plan should be developed by the end of this year. I very much welcome this proposal and look forward to the plan being developed.

 


[3] Stevenson, J. (2012), Black and Minority Ethnic Student Degree Retention and Attainment, York: Higher Education Academy.

 


The author:


Professor Jacqueline Stevenson

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson is head of research in the Sheffield Institute of Education

"It is gratifying, therefore, to see that the report makes nineteen recommendations to tackle disadvantage, of which all of my recommendations were to a lesser or greater extent included."