The journal article was called ‘Social networks, social capital, social support and academic success in higher education: A systematic review with a special focus on ‘underrepresented’ students’. A systematic literature review which considers the social factors that affect academic success with a focus on underrepresented groups.

The group began by discussing unexplained awarding gaps, and defining that such awarding gaps are unexplained when they exist even when controlling for entry grades. The literature identified multiple factors that may explain this, including; curricula and learning, relationships between staff and students, psychosocial identity factors (for example, bias and prejudice) and finally social, cultural and economic capital – which the literature focuses on. There were discussions surrounding how often, academics view these, more intangible barries, as out of their control which is not always true. The group discussed why this was the case, mentioning how academics simply may not have the capacity or time to handle these complex areas, and how academics outside of certain minority identities may simply not know how to tackle these barriers.

There were further discussions surrounding how often, students from minority and other underrepresented backgrounds prefer to seek advice from academics that are part of those same backgrounds. However, these academics are not always available, and this is where other academics can step in, with the right awareness. 

The group also discusses the importance of including Widening Participation (WP) groups within these discussions, not just minorities, and how the term ‘underrepresented groups’ is especially applicable here as it includes both. WP groups include; student parents, student carers, low-income students, independent (care-experienced, estranged and refugee) students, international students and more. Multiple group members who were a part of such groups mentioned often being left out of efforts to equalise Higher Education as a result of a sole focus on minority identities. 

The take-home messages from the participants of the journal club at the end of the session were as follows:

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Mishra, S. (2020) Social networks, social capital, social support and academic success in higher education: A systematic review with a special focus on ‘underrepresented’ students. Educational Research Review, Vol. 29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2019.100307