Closing the HE attainment gap in psychology

An open letter to:

Sarb Bajwa, Chief Executive, British Psychological Society

David Murphy, Current President, British Psychological Society

We read with great interest the Universities UK ‘Closing the Gap’ report focused on the need for HE action to close the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic attainment gap.  https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Pages/bame-student-attainment-uk-universities-closing-the-gap.aspx

We request that the BPS:

  1. Explicitly communicate that we welcome and support this initiative.
  2. Commit to building a transparent database that documents access, progression and completion by ethnicity across the courses that we accredit.
  3. Outline the psychologically informed practical approaches we are developing to put this support into action.

We consider that such a statement backed up by transparency and practical action is timely for The Society as it is both in keeping with the structural shift in the BPS to be explicitly member supporting, and is also aligned the theme of this years very well received annual conference: ‘The Psychology of Inequality’.

As members of a professional body that accredits both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in psychology this initiative is in an area where we can bring our influence to bear to improve equalities in the UK. We would call for us to model the level of transparency required to make these changes to mitigate the current loss of potential and also document the extent to which our codes of practice and professional requirements to justice, fairness and ethics are adhered to across the institutions we accredit.

In addition to being explicit about equalities in our accreditation requirements (which has increasingly been stressed in our accreditation communications) our contribution plays to our two key strengths:

  1. The explicit use of our research expertise in understanding the extent and drivers of the problem on the courses we accredit. We are not sure how well developed the BPS monitoring and reporting is on access, progression and completion for accredited courses or how this is broken down by sub-discipline and ethnicity. However, we would suggest that these figures should be an explicit requirement for programme accreditation. We understand that the BPS already holds some clear evidence from HESA that indicates undergraduate psychology students from minority backgrounds are subject to this systemic institutional unfairness and that this has serious knock on consequences for the possibility of representation in the various professional Post Graduate programmes. We are also aware that that important gaps remain in terms of completion rates by ethnicity and intersectional factors.  We are also aware that the Division of Clinical Psychology is currently taking this matter very seriously, due to substantial under-representation of Black and Asian students on Clinical Programmes.
  2. The deployment of our policy and practice expertise in two areas. One is to design BPS approaches to provide peer support to minority students studying on our accredited courses, including an independent escalation route for safe reporting of concerns about unfair treatment. The other is to provide guidance and support to institutions that need to change, which will include the reporting protocols required and the organisational actions they can take to improve their equalities outcomes. This will also cover the extension of these practices into those domains such as the NHS that provide placement experiences as a requirement of the accrediting body.

We are aware that there have been various, somewhat disconnected efforts across the Society and its divisions that have attempted to increase the representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Psychologists on our accredited programmes.  This means that there is commitment and good practice in place to build on, but the fragmented nature of this means that we have not yet gained the traction we need and our proposed actions would enable this.

Our focus is not only on our members, but also is on the long-term contribution to the wider society that will be achieved through the fair representation in psychology research and practice. We are inspired by the positive impact that fair attainment and representation in our profession will have for how all people are treated at work, how they are cared for when they are sick, how they are treated in the criminal justice system, how educational practice can become more accommodating and nurturing of the mental health of all our young, and how the fair treatment of all sports people will be enhanced.

Yours sincerely,

Prof Binna Kandola

Guilaine Kinouani

Dr Joanna Wilde

Dr Grace Mansah-Owusu

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