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Greater proportion of white students awarded upper class pharmacy degrees, compared with BAME students

Exclusive:  New national figures reveal an “unacceptable” awarding gap in favour of white pharmacy students of up to 15 percentage points for some ethnicities. 

Graduates at graduation


There is a 12-percentage-point gap in the awarding of upper class MPharm degrees between white students and students of a black, Asian or minority ethnic background

MPU Mind the gap

An analysis of data by The Pharmaceutical Journal has revealed for the first time that a significantly lower proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students are awarded a higher MPharm degree, compared with their white counterparts.

The data from all 4,690 students with a recorded ethnicity who graduated with an MPharm degree in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 were provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and indicate that 91% of white students were awarded first class or upper second class honours, compared with 79% of BAME students over the same time period.

This 12-percentage-point gap is statistically significant and comparable to the overall awarding gap seen for all UK degrees; the latest data show a 13-percentage-point gap between white and BAME students on average.

However, there are significantly larger gaps for some groups of pharmacy students, with a 15-percentage-point gap for those with black and “other Asian” ethnicity, compared with white students, and a 14-percentage-point gap for those with “other” ethnicity.

The awarding gap was smaller for those with South Asian ethnicity (11 percentage points), Chinese students (10 percentage points) and mixed ethnicity students (7 percentage points); however, for all minority ethnicities analysed there was a statistically significant difference in the awarding of higher degrees, compared with white students.

The government’s Office for Students has set a target for all universities in England to improve degree outcomes for underrepresented students, including those from minority ethnic backgrounds.

There was considerable variation between pharmacy schools, with 18 schools showing awarding gaps of up to 37 percentage points in favour of white students. However, four schools showed gaps in favour of those with BAME ethnicity of up to five percentage points. Only one pharmacy school, the University of Strathclyde, showed no awarding gap on the basis of ethnicity.

Figure 1: Ethnicity degree awarding gap revealed between white and BAME pharmacy studentse

Figure 1: Ethnicity degree awarding gap revealed between white and BAME pharmacy students

Our analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data for academic years 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 suggests there is a 12-percentage-point awarding gap (also known as attainment gap) between white pharmacy students and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pharmacy students in the UK, with 91% of white students and 79% of BAME students being awarded a first or 2:1 (P<0.01). This is similar to the gap of 13 percentage points reported by Universities UK for all 2017/2018 graduates. The largest awarding gap is between black and white students, and other Asian and white students, but gaps between white students and those from all other ethnic groups are also statistically significant (P<0.01 for black, other Asian, other, South Asian and Chinese; P<0.05 for mixed). Our analysis of both national and university-level data excludes students of unknown ethnicity and does not account for other potential confounding factors e.g. socio-economic background, degree choice preference, gender, qualification on entry or international student schemes, and it does not consider students who did not complete the degree. The University of Central Lancashire and Robert Gordon University were excluded due to lack of degree classification data

In a statement, the Pharmacy Schools Council (PhSC) said that any awarding gap is “unacceptable” and that it is committed to equity of opportunity for students.

A spokesperson for the PhSC said: “We recognise that the responsibility lies with the universities to ensure that all our students, regardless of background, do not experience unfair obstacles, including any form of racism, within their degrees that prevent them from achieving their full academic potential.”

They added that schools had “active programmes” in place examining data and developing interventions to close gaps.

The PhSC released a position statement earlier this month on enhancing support for BAME students and colleagues in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and increasing awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) said that it had consulted on changes to its standards on pharmacy training that would “strengthen requirements in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion”, including requiring course providers to conduct annual equality reviews.

A spokesperson added: “We are continuing our work to understand the factors that may affect the marks awarded to students and trainees who share particular protected characteristics, including ethnicity, and to identify what we and others can do to support students and trainees throughout their education and training.”

A spokesperson from the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) said: “More needs to be done to make students from all groups feel like they belong and are able to create strong personal and professional links at university.”

Amandeep Doll, inclusion and diversity co-ordinator at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said that strong leadership was needed to reduce the ethnicity awarding gap, with the creation of “inclusive environments” at places of study.

She added: “The significant variations in the awarding gap for BAME pharmacy students is an issue which must be addressed. It’s unacceptable and is a focus of our new inclusion and diversity strategy.

“We’ll be working with the Pharmacy Schools Council, GPhC, UK Black Pharmacists Association, the Black Pharmacists Collective and BPSA on this complex problem, which requires a variety of approaches.” 


Our methodology

The investigation into the MPharm awarding gap forms part of The Pharmaceutical Journal’s PJMindTheGap campaign, which has previously highlighted a number of inequalities for different ethnic groups in pharmacy.

Figures were acquired from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the UK designated higher education data body, and the analysis was undertaken by The Pharmaceutical Journal on data derived from the HESA Student Record for combined academic years 2017/2018 and 2018/2019.

Data were based on all MPharm first degree qualifiers within the UK in those years, broken down by ethnicity and school of pharmacy attended. Students classified as ‘unknown ethnicity’ were not included in the analysis. Pharmacy schools without degree classification data or who had small numbers of students from either white or black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were also excluded.

Percentage levels of awarding were determined for first class or upper second class MPharm degrees for white students and students belonging to a minority ethnic background, and the percentage point gap between the two calculated. Published results were rounded in accordance with HESA’s Standard Rounding Methodology.

An independent biostatistician recommended use of the chi-squared test to determine independence of ethnicity and awarding of a higher degree class for national data only. Statistical significance indicates the two variables are not independent.

HESA data were based on full person equivalents and not adjusted for grades on admission to pharmacy school, degree choice, gender, socioeconomic background, or involvement in widening participation or international student schemes.

Neither HESA or HESA Services, Jisc or Jisc Services can accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived by third parties from data or other information supplied by the Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited or HESA Services Limited.

See full results here

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society launched its pharmacy inclusion and diversity programme in August 2019. Find out more about what the Society is doing for members here

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208177

Readers' comments (4)

  • I have never seen a black pharmacist in my life, nor a chinese one. Perhaps the BAME students just need to try harder.

    As for this article, I have never read such a load of rubbish in all my life.

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  • Dear "Brent Cutler", I would highly suggest you book an urgent appointment with a psychologist and after that maybe see an optician as well. Maybe when you're done with those two, visit a church or a spiritual sanctuary, as you clearly need a Visual, Mental and Spiritual evaluation.
    I also suppose in your own little world, there is no such thing as bias or discrimination, and the Earth according to you, is flat, with four tortoises in each corner.

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  • It would seem that nothing much has changed since I was a lecturer in the Welsh School of Pharmacy in the last century. At that time, we thought that the poorer performance of [some] non-white students was related to their poor use of English, in other words, their inability to express themselves clearly. If we couldn't properly understand what was written in an examination answer, we couldn't just overlook the fact that the examinee (of whatever colour / ethnicity) appeared to lack knowledge and/or understanding of what it was that they were writing about.

    And I recall one particular student of an Asian ethnicity, who had achieved A-grade A-levels in an African country, but who I and several of my colleagues immediately recognised was not performing in line with her A-level achievements when she handed in her practical write-ups for marking. She failed her end-of-year exams even though we bent over backwards to find marks to award her for her exam answers. And she then failed her re-sit examinations. She was then provided with personal tutoring for the next year and allowed to resit her first year examinations. Again she failed the exams and the re-sits. The only conclusion that we could reach for her poor performance was that someone else had taken her place when she was sitting her A-levels. She failed, not because she was of Asian ethnicity, nor because she was female, but because she really didn't have the ability or aptitude required of pharmacy students irrespective of whether or not she gained entry into the course under suspicious circumstances.

    I would also point out that the racial / ethnic balance of footballers in the Premier League does not reflect the racial / ethnic balance in the country as a whole. As a student in the School of Pharmacy in London, I played in the School football team. I was third highest goal scorer in the year we won the local University of London colleges league. I'd really appreciate the opportunity to appear just once in a Premier League football match and be paid the kind of money that Raheem Stirling receives for an appearance. But I haven't bothered to trouble the folks at Manchester City, not because I'm white, nor because I'm now officially a "wrinkly" (both of which would be considered unlawful reasons for rejecting my application for the job), but because I don't actually have the aptitude or ability to play at that level. I certainly would immediately assume a racist motive to their [anticipated] rejection of my offer to help them out.

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  • Regarding the comment by Richard Schmidt

    The commenter might not be aware that, as a former lecturer, he is both being racist and unscientific in his comments.

    The incident he relates about the Asian student is, at best, anecdotal evidence. If, as alleged, the student had indeed bribed someone else to complete her “A”-Level exams, then she was individually corrupt as a person, something that has no basis in her racial background. Her singular experience does not in any way explain the experiences of any other BAME students that the commenter might have come across. Dishonest people are found among all racial groups.

    The comparison that the commenter then gives as a follow-up is also racially prejudiced. By implication he is suggesting that black people are more suited to sports than the study of pharmacy. No validated scientific studies are presented to back up this veiled assertion, hence we can only conclude that it is based on prejudice or racism.

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Supplementary images

  • Figure 1: Ethnicity degree awarding gap revealed between white and BAME pharmacy studentse

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