Ethnicity awarding gap for UK pharmacy graduates narrowed during COVID-19 pandemic

Exclusive: Data analysis suggests a 4-percentage-point drop in the difference between the proportions of white and ethnic minority MPharm graduates awarded an upper-class degree.
Students in a university class

The overall ethnicity awarding gap for graduates from pharmacy degrees across the UK appears to have narrowed by 4 percentage points, an analysis by The Pharmaceutical Journal suggests.

Data from 5,210 students who graduated with a pharmacy (MPharm) degree from 30 schools of pharmacy in 2019/2020 and 2020/2021, with a recorded ethnicity and degree classification, show 94% of white graduates were awarded a first or 2:1 compared with 86% of ethnic minority MPharm graduates — a statistically significant difference of 8 percentage points.

This compares with a previous analysis, published in 2020, that showed a 12-percentage-point awarding gap between white and ethnic minority pharmacy graduates in the UK in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019.

The Pharmaceutical Journal’s analysis of official data, submitted by pharmacy schools to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), shows that, although the percentage of students achieving a higher class of degree has increased for all qualifiers, an awarding gap remains between white graduates and their ethnic minority counterparts.

The largest gap was for black graduates at 12 percentage points, down from 15 percentage points in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019.

The results mirror the overall narrowing of ethnicity awarding gaps on a national level. Data published in a report by charity Advance HE in October 2021 suggest that the UK ethnicity awarding gap for all university degrees fell 3.4 percentage points in 2019/2020, compared with an average fall of 0.3 percentage points in previous years.

The report said that this may be owing to the greater use of results from coursework and continuous exams to determine awards, which some would claim is fairer and more flexible.

A spokesperson from the Pharmacy Schools Council said: “The Pharmacy Schools Council is pleased to note the national award gap has narrowed slightly in recent years. Schools of pharmacy remain committed to tackling the award gap and creating inclusive learning environments for staff and students.”

Mark Voce, director of education and standards at the General Pharmaceutical Council, which accredits pharmacy schools degree programmes, said that new standards look more closely at equality, diversity and inclusion.

“There are mandatory learning outcomes to ensure trainees treat people as equals, meet their own legal responsibilities and respect diversity and cultural differences,” he added.

“Similar requirements for education providers ensure that policies and procedures promote the principles and legal requirements of equality, diversity and fairness, and institutions are actively identifying and reducing discrimination in their selection and admission processes.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and work with providers to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion is a priority in terms of teaching as well as results,” he added.

Amandeep Doll, head of professional belonging at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “It is welcome news the awarding gap is narrowing.

“To ensure this improves further, consistently and in a sustainable way, the awarding gap should be examined as part of national workforce plans.”

All universities in England are held to a target by the Office for Students, the independent regulator of higher education, to eliminate the awarding gap between white and black students by 2030/2031.

John Blake, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said: “Our new approach of regulating equality of opportunity in higher education will allow providers to better understand how and why changes, such as those demonstrated here for pharmacy courses, occur and how they can do better work in the future to reduce risks to black students’ access, success, and progression.

“This is crucial, so that students on pharmacy courses — whatever their background — can succeed in their studies and careers.”

Health inequalities

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s policy on health inequalities was drawn up in January 2023 following a presentation by Michael Marmot, director of the Institute for Health Equity, at the RPS annual conference in November 2022. The presentation highlighted the stark health inequalities across Britain.

While community pharmacies are most frequently located in areas of high deprivation, people living in these areas do not access the full range of services that are available. To mitigate this, the policy calls on pharmacies to not only think about the services it provides but also how it provides them by considering three actions:

  • Deepening understanding of health inequalities
    • This means developing an insight into the demographics of the population served by pharmacies using population health statistics and by engaging with patients directly through local community or faith groups.
  • Understanding and improving pharmacy culture
    • This calls on the whole pharmacy team to create a welcoming culture for all patients, empowering them to take an active role in their own care, and improving communication skills within the team and with patients.
  • Improving structural barriers
    • This calls for improving accessibility of patient information resources and incorporating health inequalities into pharmacy training and education to tackle wider barriers to care.
Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2023, Vol 310, No 7971;310(7971)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.179168

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