Decolonisation of UK universities is vital, says latest Hepi paper

The report by academic Mia Liyanage puts forward five key policy recommendations based on the testimony of 16 respondents

“Get educated ” instructs a new report from The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) on the decolonisation of UK universities.

The report states that decolonisation is “the crucial next step for our institutions” and vital for the improvement of course curricula, pedagogical practice, staff wellbeing and the student experience.

Decolonisation in education is the process of reflecting on the influence of colonisation on education, and the development of curricula that draw upon knowledge from around the world, rather than one country or continent. In 2019, the Open University identified decolonisation as one of the key innovations that would transform teaching over the next decade.

‘Miseducation: decolonising curricula, culture and pedagogy in UK universities’ by Balliol College, Oxford researcher Mia Liyanage is based on over 20 hours of interviews with 16 leading figures in academia, student activism and higher education policy including lecturers, a vice-chancellor, students’ union officers, the NUS, undergraduate activists, and policy advisers to universities.

The decolonisation of UK universities: the report’s recommendations:

1. Universities must “get educated” about decolonisation and stop conflating it with equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives “which, although valuable, are designed to add to existing structures”.

2. “Widely held assumptions” about decolonisation – for example, that it is a political gesture, reduces academic rigour, and only benefits BAME students – must be challenged. Decolonisation, argues the report, “is both pedagogically necessary and academically rigorous.”

3. Institutes and government must invest in BAME research. Ms Liyanage puts the lack of funding for BAME scholars partly down to “limited understanding in English, Scottish and Welsh universities of the legal framework that allows BAME-only studentships and scholarships” and points out that UK has not instituted or funded a British form of Black Studies, “which is creating a dearth of decolonised research in our institutions”.

4. Discrimination, hostility and unconscious bias must be tackled. Those interviewed for the report say they have experienced “both overt and covert discrimination because of their work”. Staff and students feel concerned about the impact of discrimination, hostility and unconscious bias on their work.

5. Decolonisation must be institutionalised: providers should create departmental roles and engage students. Departments should hire at least one staff member per department to work on the decolonisation of their department.

Decolonising holds the potential to revamp tired courses, inspire disillusioned staff and equip students with the knowledge they need to face the modern world – Mia Liyanage

The report concludes by describing “a silent crisis” within UK HE institutions: “a crisis of student and staff wellbeing; of course rigour; and of academic expression.

“Innovative ideas are not being heard, and UK universities are lagging behind as a result. However, the only thing keeping this crisis silent is the rarity with which the voices heard in this report are able to voice their opinions and come to collective solutions.

“Decolonising holds the potential to revamp tired courses, inspire disillusioned staff and equip students with the knowledge they need to face the modern world.”

In her foreword to the report, Professor Iyiola Solanke, professor of EU law and social justice at University of Leeds and founder of the Black Female Professors Forum, urged universities to adopt “the decolonisation agenda” and condemned “outdated euro-centrism, that no longer reflects the world in which graduates will live and work, must not be allowed to dominate in our classrooms or in the country.”

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