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Solent is a university committed to inclusivity and social justice, yet has a BME attainment gap of 24%, compared to the national average of 15%. Improving the outcomes for all our students is a huge priority for Solent, and we have teamed up with Derby University in a HEFCE-funded project specifically to address this shortfall.

Derby have reduced their gap by half over four years, and we are adopting two of their small interventions at unit level. Pam Pourzanjani, senior lecturer in Psychology, runs one of the 40 units that have been selected by the Directors of School to join the project.

Pam introduced the two strategies to a level 5 unit, as those students showed a clear attainment gap. At first, she was worried that it would be a lot of extra work for a busy academic, but it turned out to be very straightforward, with a positive outcome far in excess of the effort required.

Whereas previously she had presented the assignment brief to students by standing in front of the whole class and telling them what they needed to do, this time, she put it on the screen and asked the students to tell her what they thought they needed to do. It was a very simple switch, but it made a big difference: it turned out that most students had got the emphasis of the assignment entirely wrong! They told her they thought they needed to concentrate on the theory, whereas she thought it was clear from the brief that they needed to talk about the application of the theory. As a result of this strategy, they got better marks in their assignment.

The second intervention is the introduction of a fit to submit checklist embedded into the unit page, which Pam filled out with all the common errors that students tend to make in their assignments. The biggest benefit for her was that it didn’t take as long to mark the assignments, as she didn’t have to comment on these errors. And, of course, the big advantage for the students was that they got better grades.

So far, the results of this project are very positive, and the goal is to roll these interventions out across the university, with a target of 100 units using them next year. This is a great opportunity to reduce social inequality and educational inequality. An outstanding student experience should be available for everyone.