Setting the EDI agenda

Nine key higher education influencers tell us what they believe universities should put at the forefront of their equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategies for the new academic year
Chris Millward

“All universities and colleges should minimise barriers for reporting [harassment/sexual misconduct] incidents” – Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation, the Office for Students

All students from all backgrounds should feel safe and supported during their time in higher education. Earlier this year, the Office for Students (OfS) published a statement of expectations providing a consistent set of standards for universities to follow when dealing with harassment and sexual misconduct. All universities and colleges should minimise barriers for reporting incidents, ensure that investigations are fair and transparent, and offer effective and adequate support for students.

Our expectations specifically cover incidents connected to protected characteristics – including race, religion, disability and sexual orientation – and extend beyond the campus to social media and the internet.

It’s now up to universities and colleges registered with the OfS to make sure they will be meeting these expectations by the start of the next academic year, or tell us why if they will not. This should be a top priority for universities this year and we’ll be engaging with students and staff to understand the progress being made.

www.officeforstudents.org.uk

 

Lurraine Jones

“The term BAME lumps all ‘non-white’ people together which can lead to skewed data and misleading analysis” – Lurraine Jones, head of department, School of Education and Communities, University of East London

The one thing that I feel HE needs to do with their EDI policies is to ensure that they always disaggregate the term BAME. The UK’s oft-used acronym BAME situates Black and brown peoples’ identities in relation to whiteness which in turn is situated as normative.

Furthermore, the term BAME lumps all ‘non-white’ people together which can lead to skewed data and misleading analysis. For example, the degree-awarding gap between Black and white students is far greater than ‘BAME’ compared to white students.

When the term BAME (as most UK statistics are based around this term) has to be used, it should be acknowledged as problematic at the outset and then spelled out ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ to challenge an acronym that reduces the larger part of humanity to four letters.

www.uel.ac.uk

 

Emma Kosmin

“Three in five trans students (61%) disguised their identity for fear of discrimination” – Emma Kosmin, associate director of workplace, Stonewall

At Stonewall, we want to live in a world where all lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people can be themselves, no matter where we study or work. But we know that this isn’t the reality for lots of LGBTQ+ staff and students. Our research (www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-university-report) shows that almost one in five (18%) LGBT staff have been the target of negative comments from colleagues because they’re LGBT, while three in five trans students (61%) disguised their identity for fear of discrimination.

There are so many ways that universities can become more inclusive to LGBTQ+ staff and students – from funding LGBTQ+ networks to visibly showing support for events like Pride and Trans Day of Remembrance.

We’re always happy to see universities adapt their policies and strive to become more inclusive. We are proud to be working with universities across the nation to create more inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ people. At Stonewall, we’ll continue to fight until every lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer person is free to be themselves, wherever they are.

www.stonewall.org.uk

 

Alison Johns

“Institutions would do well to have honest but sensitive discussions that promote good relationships between different racial groups” – Alison Johns, chief executive, Advance HE

Just as staff and students are diverse in their identity and in their lived experiences, universities are diverse too, and so their EDI policies need to be contextualised. However, we know a common challenge that our members have identified is tackling racism.

At Advance HE, we are working with institutions to address systemic inequalities in higher education in a number of ways. This includes our resources and podcasts, through to our Race Equality Charter which provides a robust structure and framework for analysis and action, and through bespoke development sessions with senior teams on leading an anti-racist culture.

Institutions would do well to have honest but sensitive discussions that promote good relationships between different racial groups, and other equality issues, so that we can all learn to understand each other’s perspectives and experiences better and equip staff and students with the EDI competence needed for the world today, and the future.

www.advance-he.ac.uk

 

Tom Purser

“It’s often the simplest changes that make the biggest difference to autistic students and staff” – Tom Purser, head of guidance, volunteering and campaigns, the National Autistic Society

Every autistic person – and every student and faculty member – is different and will have their own strengths and varying challenges.

Many autistic people need extra time to process information, like questions or instructions. Others feel intense anxiety in social situations or when faced with unexpected changes and find noise and bright lights distracting and even distressing. All of this can make university an incredibly challenging and overwhelming place to study or work, if support and reasonable adjustments aren’t put in place.

That’s why it’s so important for universities, including admission boards, recruitment processes and support teams, to really understand autism and consider the needs of autistic people in their equality, diversity and inclusion policies. It’s often the simplest changes that make the biggest difference to autistic students and staff. For instance, arranging visits before term starts, providing clear information when assigning work or helping students and autistic members of staff to organise and prioritise.

www.autism.org.uk

 

Sara Khan

“EDI policies should instead inscribe a system which would not prioritise punishment of the perpetrator but support of the harmed party” – Sara Khan, NUS vice president liberation & equality

Over the years, sexual violence, alongside racist, disablist and queerphobic violence, have been endemic on our campuses. While statistics are appalling, it is also widely acknowledged that such violence often goes under-reported due to the nature of reporting systems.

These reporting systems, widely modelled on criminal justice-style tribunals, operate on the basis of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ because there is a risk of punishment for the perpetrator. Such a system ultimately puts victims on trial, forced to re-traumatise themselves in order to ‘prove’ that they have been harmed.

In the fashion of transformative justice, EDI policies should instead inscribe a system which would not prioritise punishment of the perpetrator but support of the harmed party, believing and providing trauma-based care to victims.

www.nus.org.uk

 

Dr Gurnam Singh

“If there is one lesson that we can learn from the Covid-19 experience, it is the importance of co-operation, care, co-creation and community” – Dr Gurnam Singh, associate professor of equity of attainment, Coventry University

Far too often universities have tended to focus on narratives of exclusivity and individual student success and competition. But if there is one lesson that we can learn from the Covid-19 experience, it is the importance of co-operation, care, co-creation and community.

Covid-19 has highlighted, in devastating ways, the relation between disadvantage and such things as educational attainment and health outcomes. And this makes the task of addressing structural disadvantage more important than ever.

In the post-Covid world, HEIs, as apex institutions when it comes to the knowledge production and dissemination, are well placed to lead in the building of a new, more caring social order.

www.coventry.ac.uk

 

Jenny Sherrard

“Universities need to do more to ensure that EDI is truly a shared responsibility” – Jenny Sherrard, head of equality and policy, University and College Union (UCU)

Universities need to do more to ensure that EDI is truly a shared responsibility. Many members in underrepresented groups tell us of their exhaustion at being expected to be visible role models and take on EDI work with little support, all while dealing with microaggressions which chip away at their confidence and sense of belonging.

Rising workloads and reduced job security associated with the pandemic has made this work even harder, with marginalised staff feeling more exposed than ever in pushing back against unfair policies.

Properly acknowledging and rewarding the huge contribution of labour – emotional and otherwise – which marginalised groups make in driving EDI agendas forward is therefore crucial. Clear, well-resourced action plans are also needed to drive this work forward, connect it with broader industrial challenges and ensure buy-in at all levels.

www.ucu.org.uk

 

Professor Graeme Atherton

“Demand for support from students will not necessarily taper off as we get back to normal” – Professor Graeme Atherton, director, NEON

Universities need to focus intently on how to ensure that in the rush to return to a ‘post-Covid normality’, those students from groups under-represented in the institution and with specific sets of needs are not lost in these changes.

Learning, teaching and the student experience will be adapting as some of the innovations introduced under Covid restrictions become normalised.

The social nature of student life will also be different as some groups wish to embrace the opportunity to get back to the way things were while others are more reticent. It is vital that resources are there to allow those working on equality, diversity and inclusion across institutions to connect with each other and find the space for the support they want to evolve.

Demand for support from students will not necessarily taper off as we get back to normal. Universities must recognise this and invest where necessary.

www.educationopportunities.co.uk


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