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Home Article Different backgrounds lead to different student experiences of HE

Different backgrounds lead to different student experiences of HE

Published: 05/07/2013

ECU response to HEFCE report 'Higher education and beyond: outcomes from full-time first degree study'

HEFCE’s recent report Higher education and beyond: outcomes from full-time first degree study highlights that students experience and benefit from higher education differently depending on their background. The report looks at degree attainment and subsequent employment of students from the 2006/07 cohort.


The report emphasises the importance and value of disabled students’ allowance (DSA).

Disabled students receiving DSA are more likely to achieve a 1st or 2:1 degree than disabled students who don’t receive DSA. On completion of their first degree, they are also more likely to be in employment or further study, and more likely to be in a graduate job.

The extra support that the DSA funds has enabled this cohort of students to achieve equal outcomes with non-disabled students.

HEIs are doing a lot of work to inform disabled students about DSA and how it can support them to reach their potential. However, ongoing research by ECU into support for students experiencing mental health difficulties suggests that this group would benefit from further information and support to enable them to make informed choices about whether to apply for DSA.

See ECU’s guide Evidencing equality: approaches to increasing disclosure and take-up of disabled students’ allowance.


The report adds to the growing body of evidence that students from minority ethnic backgrounds have a different experience of HE from their white peers. This points to the need for more inclusive curriculum design, assessments and culture.

Many HEIs have set objectives to tackle the differences in degree attainment. As a sector we need to commit to taking significant, long-term action to tackle these issues and ensure that no student is disadvantaged by their colour, race, ethnic or national origin, or caste.

See joint ECU and Higher Education Academy work on improving the degree attainment of black and minority ethnic students.


The different outcomes for male students highlight the need for HEIs to
consider their specific student experience and the academic and pastoral
support tailored for, and available to, male students.

The report outlines the continued success of female students in HE, but there remains the need to focus on women’s career progression and retention in academic employment. While around 56% of all students are women, only around 20% of all professors are women.

See ECU’s guide Male students: engagement with academic and pastoral support services.

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