Questions about the relevance and validity of the ethnic categories currently in use ought to be part of any discussion concerning ethnic attainment differences in higher education. Using ethnic categories is problematic because the categories are known to be socially constructed, yet, although acknowledged as social constructed ‘pigments of the imagination’, the use of these categories is thought to be essential if ethnic inequalities in higher education are to be addressed (Anwar 1990; Gilroy 2000; Cousin 2002; Gillborn 2008, Warmington 2009; Singh 2011). Ethnic categories are used in higher education to quantify student attainment by ethnicity, to specify group identities, to determine groups that are vulnerable to discrimination, to identify cultural learning styles and to develop culturally inclusive curricula as well as inclusive teaching and learning practices. Amid the rush to identify these and other differences in the name of diversity, inclusion and equality, the consequences of categorising people are rarely discussed.