Understanding the different challenges facing students in transitioning to university particularly with a focus on ethnicity

Hannah Parker, Annie Hughes, Caleb Marsh, Sadia Ahmed, James Cannon, Emma Taylor-Steeds, Lucy Jones, Nigel Page


A positive and successful transition into University is crucial if students are to stay the course in higher education and experience successful outcomes. However, challenges exist in ensuring a connected transition from secondary and further education to higher education that is inclusive and supports the diversity in our current undergraduate student body. We set out to explore the diverse experiences that first year students report about their recent transition to a post-1992 University. We were particularly interested in how these experiences and challenges differed by ethnicity. This is incredibly important given the disparity, recognised in the sector, in the attainment of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students compared to their White counterparts and particularly pertinent that this trend reverses attainment patterns in secondary education. This paper summarises some of our key findings in determining the challenges facing students from different backgrounds in their transition to university. It argues that Universities will have to change their transition and wider offer to ensure that diverse students feel welcomed and develop a sense belonging in Higher Education in order for them to achieve successful outcomes.

Keywords: Transition, widening participation, ethnicity


Transition; widening participation, ethnicity

Full Text:



Beacock, O., Jackson-Cole, D., May, S., McDuff, N. & Tatam, J. (2015) Literature review of the BME Attainment Gap at Kingston University and beyond. Available at: http://www.kingston.ac.uk/aboutkingstonuniversity/equality-diversity-and-inclusion/bme-attainment-gap/

Bowles, A., Dobson, A., Fisher, R. & McPhail, R. (2011) An exploratory investigation into first year student transition to university. Research and Development in Higher Education, 34, 61-71. Available at:


Cavanagh, S. (2008) Inclusive Campus: Accommodation and Social Space

Guidance 2008. The Equality Change Unit, ECU Publications, London. Available at: http://www.ecu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/external/inclusive-campus.pdf

Chang, J., Denson, N., Saenz, V. & Misa, K. (2006) The Educational Benefits of Sustaining Cross-Racial Interaction among Undergraduates. The Journal of Higher Education, 77, 430-455. DOI: 10.1353/jhe.2006.0018

Crawford, C. & Greaves, E. (2015) Ethnic minorities substantially more likely to go to university than their White British peers. Institute for Fiscal Studies. Available at: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8042

Department for Education (2016) Revised GCSE and equivalent results in England, 2014 to 2015. Department for Education Available at:


Equality Change Unit (2015) Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2015 Part 2: students. Available at:


Equality Change Unit (2014) Equality in Higher Education: Statistical report 2014 Part 2: students. Available at:


Frame, M. (2015) Building belonging with the curriculum: Optimum combinations of pedagogies for Level 1 students. The Higher Education Academy. Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/building-belonging-curriculum-optimum-combinations-pedagogies-level-1-students

HEFCE (2015) Differences in degree outcomes: The effect of subject and student characteristics. Available at:


HEFCE (2015b) Causes of differences in student outcomes. Available at:


Read, B., Archer, L. & Leathwood, C. (2003) Challenging Cultures? Student Conceptions of 'Belonging' and 'Isolation' at a Post-1992 University. Studies in Higher Education, 28, 262-277. DOI: 10.1080/03075070309290

Sims, J. (2009) Not Enough Understanding? Student Experiences of Diversity in UK Universities. A Runnymede Community Study. United Kingdom. Available at: https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/publications/pdfs/NotEnoughUnderstanding-2007.pdf

Singh, G. (2009) Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students' participation in higher education: improving retention and success. EvidenceNet, Higher Education Academy. Available at:


Stevenson, J. (2012) Black Minority Ethnic Student Degree Retention and Attainment. Higher Education Academy. United Kingdom. Available at:


Thomas, L. (2012) What Works - Student Retention and Success. Higher Education Academy. United Kingdom. Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/wasrs-programme/what-works-student-retention-and-success

Thomas, L. & Jones, R. (2007) Embedding employability in the context of widening participation. Learning and employability, Series two. Available at:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/ndtps.v0i12.2450

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
We use both functional and performance cookies to improve visitor experience. Continue browsing if you are happy to accept cookies. Please see our Privacy Policy for more information.

New Directions in the Teaching of Natural Sciences

eISSN: 2753-4138

University Home