Minority ethnic Britons’ educational success not reflected in pay, study finds

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Most minority ethnic groups in the UK have made remarkable progress in educational achievement but “clear evidence” of discrimination remains in their pay and careers, according to a study published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The IFS report found that most of the largest minority ethnic groups obtain English and maths exam results at least as good or better than those achieved by white British students in England, and are more likely than white teenagers to go on to university.

But that educational success “has not yet translated into better, or even equal, success when it comes to earnings”, according to the IFS, with fewer minority ethnic students admitted into the most prestigious universities or obtaining degree results as good as their white counterparts.

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Prof Heidi Safia Mirza of the University College London Institute of Education, a co-author of the study, said: “The picture is neither universally positive nor universally gloomy. Most ethnic minority groups in the UK are doing better than they were, and are doing particularly well in education.

“On the other hand, most continue to earn less than their white British counterparts, and all earn less on average than we would expect given their education, background and occupation. Evidence of discrimination in the labour market is clear, and wealth inequalities are likely to prove especially hard to shift.

“Policymakers need to understand and acknowledge all these nuances and complexities if we are to make further progress in tackling remaining inequalities.”

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The study highlights the “remarkable” change in educational performance by some groups in England. Just 15 years ago Bangladeshi pupils were 10 percentage points less likely than white British pupils to obtain good maths and English GCSE results – but now they are five percentage points more likely to get good grades.

But the IFS said there was “no single story of advantage or disadvantage”, so that while Black African and Pakistani pupils have closed the educational attainment gap, Black Caribbean pupils “have, if anything, fallen further behind”.

And while Bangladeshi students are 27 percentage points more likely to attend higher education than white students, they still remain less likely to be admitted to universities that demand top A-level grades, although the gap has narrowed in recent years.

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The study notes that some minority ethnic groups gain far more in terms of improved income as graduates than others, including their white British counterparts, because of the very low earnings by non-graduates within their same ethnic group. Pakistani women and men, in particular, gain the highest financial returns from going to university, despite their average earnings being lower than any other group of graduates.

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The report published on Monday is part of the IFS’s Deaton review of inequalities in the 21st century. It comes as the Trades Union Congress warns that the number of adults taking education courses has plummeted, especially among learners from poor backgrounds or living in the most deprived areas.

The TUC said that since 2016 the number of adults taking courses from the most deprived parts of Britain has fallen from 705,000 to 447,000. Adult education funding has been slashed by 40% since 2010, with fees introduced for adults wanting to gain new qualifications.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: “The government must reverse its self-defeating cuts and work with unions and other providers to upskill the nation. Rishi Sunak must put his money where his mouth is and invest properly in training and skills.”

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