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Advancing equality and diversity in universities and colleges

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Equality in the classroom and the corridors

Attainment for all requires joined-up action from all staff, says ECU’s Chris Hall.

We are all aware that there are significant and persistent equality challenges in higher education that impact on student experience and attainment.

For example, the difference between the proportion of white qualifiers receiving a first or 2:1 and the proportion of minority ethnic qualifiers receiving a first or 2:1 is 17.7%. In every subject, with the exception of computer science and law, a higher proportion of non-disabled qualifiers received a first class degree than disabled qualifiers.

At the same time, higher education institutions are seeking to meet their responsibility to provide reasonable adjustments, provide pastoral support for students, take inclusive approaches to teaching, ensure equitable admissions practices and limit the impact of unconscious bias on marking.

It is common to consider equality issues in pedagogy and student achievement separately from the broader experience of staff and students. But the two spheres are interlinked, both vital to the mission of a university. To consider what happens in the classroom separately to what happens in the corridor and beyond misses an opportunity to make a real impact.

The remits of Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) and the Higher Education Academy Scotland (HEA) for advancing equality in some way reflect this somewhat artificial split. It has been clear to both organisations for some time that that if we are to improve the picture for all our students, and provide information and guidance for our staff, – whether academic or professional and support – we need to bring these aspects together.

The joint ECU and HEA conference held in April Attainment for all: inclusivity, diversity and success in learning and teaching in Scottish HE sought to do exactly that. It allowed the valuable work that the HEA has undertaken on inclusive learning and teaching to stand beside ECU’s understanding of how institutions can develop an inclusive environment.

The aim was to help you consider equality in the round, reflecting the impact of equality issues on the realities of teaching and learning. The conference set out a challenge for colleages too – to consider when and where you can work collaboratively with colleagues, and with students, across these imaginary dividing lines. Many examples of practice were showcased at the conference – we hope that you will identify several that can help you make a real difference for learning and teaching in your institution.

Event materials

Attainment for all: Programme, abstracts and resources