Inside Track | Louise Banahene: Tackling degree awarding gaps

In this first of a series, Louise Banahene, Director of Educational Engagement, unpacks some of the key themes from the Access and Student Success Strategy and suggests ways we can all get involved.

Louise Banahene June 2019

Last November we launched the Access and Student Success Strategy. Thank you to everyone who fed back. I have been struck by the enthusiasm and commitment to implement change and work in partnership with our students to do this. 

This is the first in a series of ‘Inside Track’ pieces in which I will be unpacking some of the key themes – or ‘pillars’ – in the strategy, and suggesting how we can all get involved in meeting the targets that we have set ourselves to move towards becoming a more equitable university.

My thanks go to the Leeds University Union (LUU) executive - and especially to Carolina Hall-Rodriguez, Education Officer and Laila Fletcher, Diversity Officer -  for their partnership working on these issues and their ongoing commitment.

Degree awarding gaps

Across the sector and at Leeds, Black and Asian students are less likely to be awarded an upper second class or first class degree, or a merit at Masters level, compared to their peers. This inequality has to be addressed urgently.

At Leeds we have started to see a positive reduction in the degree awarding gap over the last year, but we need to move more quickly. To that end we have set ourselves targets at undergraduate level and will shortly be setting them for taught postgraduate level.

As outlined in the Access and Student Success Strategy, curriculum development and the learning experience are important factors in addressing these awarding gaps, and that is why we have embarked on a great deal of work in these areas.

Decolonising the Curriculum

Embedding work in areas such as sense of belonging and decolonising the curriculum is key. We must ensure that all lived experiences are valued and that they inform and shape approaches to curriculum and student experience. Decolonising extends beyond the curriculum and the need to do this goes beyond degree awarding gaps.

There are a number of subject disciplines who have worked to reform what ‚Äčand how they teach and we can see the impact of this already. We know that many others want to engage too and to this end Dr Nina Wardleworth, Student Success Academic Lead and Leeds Institute of Teaching Excellence (LITE) Fellow, is co-chairing a working group to prepare a set of principles and frameworks in areas such as decolonising academic literacies, assessment and student opportunities, and curriculum content.

This vital work – challenging the content of our courses and how we teach – is being developed in partnership with a group of staff and students including members of the LUU executive. The wider decolonisation work will feed into related initiatives, such as the focus on the diversity of our staff.

We also know that this can be a sensitive area and sometimes we worry about saying the wrong thing. But discussion is key, whether that is understanding more about how we can take an anti-racist stance or how the experience we offer our students is relevant to all. Our partnership with LUU is vital to this and we’ve all benefited from working collaboratively to move this forward.

Research and data analysis has provided a more granular understanding too. We understand, for example, that there can often be intersections with additional inequalities such as social disadvantage. This allows us to target and mitigate more effectively. Events and forums have provided space to hear what work is underway at the University and across the sector. This includes the research led by Dr Iwi-Ugiagbe-Green, LITE Fellow, on inclusive targeting.

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing work and guidance to consult and shape.

Some of you will know about the monthly student success forums. These take core topics such as curriculum development and create a space for discussion. If you’d like to get involved in these or any of the initiatives I’ve discussed here, please contact me on Teams or via email

Thank you.

Louise Banahene

Director of Educational Engagement

Posted in: