Universities will have to publish information on what they are doing to tackle ethnic disparity, the Government has announced.
They will also be held to account on how they improve outcomes for under-represented students, including those from ethnic minorities.
This will be done through the Office for Students (OfS), which will examine the access and participation plans of institutions.
As part of a string of measures announced on Friday, universities will be required to publish data on admissions and attainment, broken down by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, David Lidington, and the Universities Minister Chris Skidmore, also announced that league table providers would be encouraged to take into account performance on addressing inequalities between ethnic groups in university rankings.
Figures from the Race Disparity Audit and OfS show that although record numbers of ethnic minorities are attending university, only 56% of black students achieved a First or 2:1 compared with 80% of their white peers in 2016/2017.
The data also suggests black students are the most likely to drop out of university.
Mr Lidington said: “I am determined that nobody experiences a worse outcome solely on the grounds of their ethnicity, which is why the Government is making a clear and concerted effort, alongside higher education partners, to tackle these injustices.
“These ethnic disparities in higher education cannot be tackled overnight, but I look forward to seeing meaningful and sustained progress in the higher education sector in the next few years.”
Mr Skidmore said: “I fully expect access and participation plans, which universities will be drawing up this year for implementation in 2020-21, to contain ambitious and significant actions to make sure we are seeing material progress in this space in the next few years.
“It is one of my key priorities as the universities minister to ensure that I work with universities to highlight examples of best practice in widening not only access, but also we redouble our efforts to tackle student dropout rates.
“It cannot be right that ethnic minority students are disproportionately dropping out of university and I want to do more to focus on student experience to help ethnic minority students succeed at university.”
The director of Soas University of London, Baroness Amos – who is herself of Guyanese background – said it was an “absolute scandal” that fewer than 1% of university professors are black.
Lady Amos, who is co-chairing a project with the National Union of Students to address the ethnic minority attainment gap, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Students talk about the importance of the culture in universities, about creating an inclusive environment. It’s about who is teaching you, what you’re learning, what’s in the curriculum.
“It’s an absolute scandal that less than 1% of our university professors are black.”
Lady Amos said it was “crucial” that the Government was now demanding transparency from universities on ethnic attainment and telling the regulator to monitor their performance.
“Some universities have been dealing with this in a very concentrated way,” she said. “It takes years to really look at the factors and to make the difference.
“The leadership that is shown in universities by vice-chancellors is absolutely critical.”