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First ever report into effect of students’ religion and belief published by Advance HE

17 Mar 2020 | Advance HE Advance HE has published a new report looking at the differences in student outcomes by their religion or belief, with a focus on attainment.

Religion and Belief in UK Higher Education is the first of its kind to examine how student outcomes may differ according to religion and belief.

Religion and belief became one of nine protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010, yet there has been little research done into the impact of this on students since then.

This research was made possible by new requirements from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), introduced in the 2017-18 academic year, which made the return of data about student’s religion and belief mandatory. The report uses data collected from over two million HE students.

HESA statistics show around half of all students reported having a religion or belief (50.2%). The majority of these were Christian (65.5%), followed by Muslim students (17.8%).

There were substantial differences in degree attainment by students’ religion or belief. Overall 76.3% of students received a first or 2:1 degree, yet only 64.9% of Muslim students received a first or 2:1.

At institutions with over 12% of students identifying as Muslim, the attainment gap was eight percentage points, compared to 19 percentage points at institutions with fewer than 3.5% of students identifying as Muslim.

The figures show that men are underrepresented in UK HE; overall 57.0% of students are women. However, the analysis found that this split was not present in all religious groups. For Hindu and Muslim students, the gender split of people attending HE was close to 50:50. In contrast, over two-thirds of students identifying as Spiritual were women.

A gender attainment gap was present within all religious groups, however, with women graduating with a first or 2:1 degree in higher numbers than men.


This first-of-its-kind report fills a massive gap in research into student equality in higher education and is a positive step forward for the sector.

“With this report, institutions are now better able to take evidence-informed steps to address inequalities, target initiatives at underrepresented groups more effectively and go further down the path towards equity of student outcomes.

“Advance HE will continue to work with the sector to improve outcomes for students, regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity or identity.”

Gary Loke, Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE

Download Religion and Belief in UK Higher Education


The report was authored by Natasha Codiroli Mcmaster, read her accompanying blog here.

Advance HE published guidance in 2018 on how to support the inclusion of staff and students of different faiths and beliefs. This includes practical issues like timetabling, catering, recruitment and inclusive teaching and learning. Download the guidance 

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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