UNIVERSITIES have been urged to develop broader reading lists with fewer white authors amid concerns over a “stark” attainment gap between black students and their white counterparts.

The NUS Scotland has suggested reading lists that are dominated by white, Western academics could be why black students appear to be falling behind.

The union has also urged universities to examine their staff structure, warning that a lack of diversity in the curriculum and among support staff may be impacting on black students’ progress.

The call came after new figures showed 76 per cent of white graduates secured a first class or upper second degree, compared to 54 per cent of black students, and 66 per cent of Asian students.

The Scottish Labour Party, which collated the data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, said it was "deeply worrying" to see such a "stark racial divide".

NUS Scotland Women’s Officer Shuwanna Aaron said Scotland’s universities should respond to the data by scrutinising black and Asian students’ experiences on their own campuses.

She added: “Anecdotally, we know that there are a number of barriers that could impact on Black and Asian students’ attainment. For some, it can be difficult to engage with a reading list that is too often dominated by white, western, academics, who write from a perspective that some students might not automatically relate to.

“There’s a real need to look at how we can better diversify the curriculum we offer students.”

Ms Aaron, the union’s former Black Students’ Officer, said universities and other relevant sector bodies should now use the research findings as a catalyst for examining their own structure, in particular among pastoral and support staff.

“We cannot underestimate the positive impact that staff diversity can have on a students’ experience – we must ensure that all students see themselves reflected in the staff team they work with, and feel able to seek academic and pastoral support from a member staff who will understand their circumstances.

“We’d urge universities, and other relevant sector bodies, to treat these figures as a prompt to look into the experiences and outcomes of Black and Asian students on our campuses, identifying the extent, and causes, of any attainment gaps in our education system.

“Every student should have equal access to the fantastic opportunities that university education can create, regardless of nothing but their academic performance and desire to learn,” she added.

Daniel Johnston, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said: “For thousands of students arriving at their universities, the expectation should be that if you work hard and have the talent, you will graduate with a good degree.

"However, these statistics show that at the end of their degrees, attainment by black and Asian graduates is far below that of their white contemporaries.

"The differences between institutions suggest that the gap, at least in part, must be explained by what is happening at the universities themselves and I hope universities will be asking themselves the challenging questions, not least what is causing this gap?”

A spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission also expressed concern at the figures. He said: "The higher education system now needs to explain why this is the case and set out their plans to close these gaps.

“Ethnic minorities in Scotland are three times more likely to attend university than their white peers, but fair far worse in the post study labour market, being less successful in translating their qualifications into jobs. Getting lower levels of qualifications could be one explanation for that."

He said Scottish universities were required by the Public Sector Equality Duty to ensure fairness between different ethnic minority groups.”

A Universities Scotland spokesman said: "This is data we want to understand in more detail as we believe there is a lot of complexity around the issue.

“Scotland has a higher than Scottish population representation of black and ethnic minority students at our institutions and the retention rate for these students is on par with white students and the overall average.

“Our institutions all go through external validation of degrees to ensure that any set of students do not face discrimination.”