Journal Article

Experiences of autonomy support in learning and teaching among black and minority ethnic students at university


In higher education in the UK, there is an unnecessary and inequitable attainment gap of approximately 15% between the number of black and minority ethnic (BME) students and white students who receive a first class or upper second class degree. The aim of this study was to explore whether BME students experienced structural inequalities in teaching and learning that thwarted the extent to which they experienced satisfaction of their need for autonomy, which may contribute to the existence of an attainment gap. Three focus groups were conducted to explore these issues with 17 BME students studying at one UK university. They were all female, aged between 18–50 years, and most described their ethnicity as Black African. Thematic analysis combining an inductive and deductive approach generated two themes: lack of satisfaction of the need for autonomy, and satisfaction of the need for autonomy. All students predominantly discussed situations in which they felt unable to behave in ways that were concordant with their true sense of self, due to factors including course material that did not address diverse cultural issues and negative stereotypes held by students and staff. They described how this often led to a sense of isolation, diminished motivation, and lower wellbeing. In contrast, some students described specific lectures in which diversity was discussed in a way that satisfied their need for autonomy. Implications for teaching are discussed.

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Bunce, Louise
King, Naomi

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Psychology, Health and Professional Development


Year of publication: 2019
Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-12-09

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Related resources

This RADAR resource is Part of The Psychology of Education Review, vol. 43, no.2 (Autumn 2019).


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