The rationale for equality and diversity

A new publication out this week, from the Equality Challenge Unit is “The rationale for equality and diversity: How vice-chancellors and principals are leading change”.

As someone who has blogged in the past on BME student success issues, and has done a small amount of work in my own institution on this, I though it would be useful to see how leadership might influence how universities are tackling the various diversity and equality agenda.

In his blog, David Ruebain, chief executive of ECU, writes:

“Achieving equality and diversity through changing your institution’s culture and practices takes time. Meaningful change requires strong leadership and an understanding that equality is an integral part of a university’s mission.”


“..we wanted to look at why some universities and some senior leaders are more successful in advancing equality and diversity than others. Our summit partners were keen to explore what made these institutions stand out from the crowd: what drives these leaders to become proactive and public champions of equality and diversity?”

The report then covers the research aims and methodology; the institutional drivers for equality and diversity; personal drivers for vice-chancellors and principals, and evidence of benefits and impact including overall performance, globalisation, modernising learning, minority ethnic staff and students, widening participation and women in senior academic roles. case studies from 12 universities are presented to back up the research findings.”

Looking at the institutional drivers: ecu1

It is perhaps telling that that respondents considered that creating an inclusive environment for students was the most important, and seeking external recognition was the least important.

Interestingly, the personal drivers of VCs were considered and “this translated into a concern to increase attainment levels and reduce any gaps between different types of students (for instance, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or from minority ethnic backgrounds).”

Certainly my own passionate belief that in this institution we need to work more to understand why students with a BME background do not achieve in the same way as their white counterparts is driven by my own views of social justice and family history. Even this week I have been shocked by comments about how or why different groups perform and how important or unimportant this might be as an issue.

A number of universities had revisited their teaching and learning strategies, to ensure that they were inclusive, and had seen benefits that were experienced by all students. When Winston Morgan spoke to our Learning and Teaching Conference earlier this year, he highlighted that many of the action we may take to reduce the attainment gap between white and BME students will often improve the quality of education for all, and actually maintain the gap.

The recommendations from the report are primarily for VCs and leaders – how to use personal leadership, how to involve governing bodies and how to hold leaders to account against progress, recommending the need to “walk the talk”.

Looking at the individual case studies, then a few highlights for me on BME student attainment are as follows:

Wolverhampton University: a student-related objective is to increase the proportion  of BME students awarded 2:1 degrees. Attainment champions have been appointed in a number of schools. There are also objectives to close employability gaps for BME and  disabled students.

Kingston University: To send a strong message about commitment to equality, Bonnie Greer was appointed as Chancellor. With BME students accounting for more than half of the undergraduate population, their higher attrition rate and  attainment gap is a significant challenge that the 2012-2016  strategy seeks to address. An objective has been set to increase the proportion of BME undergraduate students achieving a first or 2:1 degree to 54.9%. Other measures include an increase in retention and progression rates for BME students. Energy is also being put into improving employability by setting
up an employability advisory panel and developing strong relationships with major employers.

Oxford Brookes: the university is taking a data-driven approach and has
undertaken in-house research into BME student attainment in order to drive the work on enhancing the student experience.

In conclusion – a useful addition to the canon of material on how to tackle equality and diversity issues, with a strong message that leadership can make a significant difference.

In terms of BME student attainment, then linking the importance of leadership and the need for data driven approaches, to the very clear recommendations from the research of Winston Morgan (around entry tariffs, assessment types, how well the academic staff and leadership reflect the demographic of the student population etc) would mean that a university would be able to identify the steps it needs to take to work towards reducing the attainment gap.