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This session will be led by Ratha Perumal, Jessi Johnson & Chinelo Bennett

The degree award gap is a decades-old ‘ethnic penalty’ experienced by racially minoritised students in HE (Hasmath, 2012). It is evident in their degree classifications, employment patterns and pay. This outcome disparity also contributes to the ‘leaky pipeline’ to postgraduate study and the underrepresentation of minority ethnic academics in UKHE (Bhopal, 2018). Those differences have remained despite efforts to address them for more than three decades (UUK, 2022).

In this seminar, we briefly explore the key institutional and individual factors that can contribute to the formation and persistence of the degree award gap, paying particular attention to issues in assessment.

We then go on to contextualise those insights to a single institutional context – at KCL. We consider specific interventions that are currently in place at King’s to address the degree award gap, including the practical challenges of scale and complexity. We conclude with an account of external processes in the higher education sector that influence the way(s) the degree award gap is addressed within institutions like KCL, such as the role of the Office for Students.

Speaker Biographies

Chinelo Bennett is the Associate Director for the Student Transitions and Outcomes team at Kings and has over ten years of Higher Education experience, having worked across several institutions including LSE and Queen Mary London before joining Kings in 2022. Chinelo specialises in strategic delivery around closing the awarding gap which include design and delivery of interventions, implementation of change models and developing research projects which interrogate attainment, continuation and transition gaps. Chinelo is one of the Race Equality Charter mark leads at Kings and specifically focusses on embedding antiracism practices across the institution. Chinelo was previously the Chair for the Attainment Workstream group (the main steering group addressing our Office for Students’ requirements to close attainment gaps at King’s) and is currently a Co-chair for the Student Success Antiracism Community of Practice. Chinelo facilitates sessions on Discussing Race, is an Antiracism Consultant and sits on various advisory boards as their DEI specialist. Chinelo holds a BSc in Psychology and an MA in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice and will be looking to start her PhD in the coming months.

Jessi Johnson (she/they) is currently pursuing her PhD in Education Research and Policy at King's, studying the intersection of assessment practices, psychological safety, and the HE degree award gaps. Her research centers on how to collaborate with learners to create more inclusive marking practices, which she believes could help narrow the gaps. Before joining King's, Jessi was a Professor of Writing, Law & Social Justice, and Rhetoric in the United States for 12 years. She became the chair of her department's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee in 2020; and in 2021, received the university award for Distinguished Service in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work. In 2022, she was named her institution's Master Teacher. She later became a "DEI Consultant" for various university departments, particularly focused on how to create more justice-centered hiring & retention systems, and assessment practices. Jessi is a first generation student who experienced systemic exclusion, academic gatekeeping, and imposter phenomenon; and she works hard to ensure learners today have much more empowering experiences. If you run into Jessi at a party, she's probably the one talking about the dramatic true crime history of the Graham cracker.

Ratha Perumal is the Academic Director at the Office for Institutional Equity, UEL and a PhD researcher at King’s. Her doctoral work examines factors that contribute to the degree-award gap experienced by racially-minoritised students in HE. Through working at a post-1992 university and a Russell Group institution, Ratha sees first-hand how higher education policy discourses can produce different implementation strategies in individual institutional contexts – with varied outcomes. Such insights inform her doctoral study and other research and scholarly activity.

Event details

Waterloo Bridge Wing, G.552
Waterloo Bridge Wing, Franklin Wilkins Building
Stamford Street, SE1 9NH