Business Studies 1: Some Statistics…


I was visited during the summer by a researcher interviewing academics across the university to investigate their experience of the University’s Widening Participation programme. The Widening Participation programme aims to: “raise aspirations and educational attainment among prospective students from under-represented groups, to:

  • prepare them for higher education
  • ensure success on their programme of study
  • improve their employment prospects
  • open possibilities for postgraduate study
  • give them opportunities to return to learning throughout their lives”.

The research project seemed to be based on an assumption that students from “lower socio-economic groups” and “low-participation schools and neighbourhoods” struggled relative to their more advantaged co-students. I was happy to go along with this assumption and discuss the reasons why they struggled and what the University should do to ameliorate this problem. I now realise that the initial assumption may well be wrong, at least for Business School students.

Years ago lecturers developed some insight into which groups were performing well on courses because the mark sheets circulated in the exam boards had students’ names. In fact, in my first academic job at another university the students photographs were circulated just in case anyone had forgotten their prejudices. Nowadays mark sheets are anonymous, so it is harder to see how marks are distributed between nationalities or genders, which is clearly a good thing for equity, but it also makes it harder to spot patterns.

The Scottish government maintain the Scottish Index on Multiple Deprivation,  a demographic database that splits Scotland into 6505 neighbourhood zones and ranks them from 1, the most deprived, through to 6505, the least deprived. As the Index codes every Scottish postcode, it might just as well be called the Scottish Index of Multiple Affluence. Pondering the issues raised during the meeting in the summer, I spent an hour looking for the correlation between the SIMD code of Scottish Business Studies 1 students in the last four years and their final grade for the course, expecting to find a positive correlation.

The plot I produced of the over 800 datapoints looks like this:


After crunching these numbers through SPSS, a statistics package, it found no statistically significant relationship between SIMD rank and BS1 mark. This implies that students from “lower socio-economic groups”, as identified in the Widening Participation policy, do neither worse nor better than their co-students from groups who suffer from multiple non-deprivation.  More pronounced is the distribution along the SIMD Rank axis: there are very few students in lowly ranked groups, but a large number  in the high ranked neighbourhoods.


From the SPSS analysis, the distibution is:



So only 3.9% are from the most deprived quarter of the Scottish population by SIMD classification, while 53% are from the least deprived quarter.

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