Why is the BME attainment gap such a wicked problem?

Liz Austen, Caroline Heaton, Stella Jones-Devitt, Nathaniel Pickering


This paper outlines a research process which followed a case study approach (Yin, 2009) to explore the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) student attainment gap, and responses to it, at Sheffield Hallam University. A mixed methodology was envisaged, which would triangulate institutional data, measures of student engagement, focus groups and researcher reflections to construct an analysis of interventions aimed at enhancing confidence and belonging for BME students. This discussion focuses on the challenges experienced by the research team and uses the notion of a 'wicked problem' to help understand the limitations faced. 'Wicked problems' (Rittel, 1972; see Conklin, 2005) are entrenched in social complexity, which increases in line with the diversity of the associated stakeholders. These problems have the ability to divide opinion, provide limited solutions and lay blame for lack of results. This research examining the BME attainment gap can be critiqued using this notion of a 'wicked problem', noting that, without recognition, this issue has the potential to become ubiquitous and almost unsolvable.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21100/jeipc.v3i1.587


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