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Advancing equality and diversity in universities and colleges


Learning session 4

Day 2: 1.30pm - 3pm

You can choose one of the following learning sessions:

A: Panel of papers: Creating an inclusive university.

Paper 1: Tackling the barriers to an inclusive university: the student perspective. >

Laurine Groux-Moreau and Victoria Mason, University of Bristol.

Themes: Change; co-production; disability; social practices

This paper will explore the barriers faced by disabled students, within the UK university context. The aim of the paper is to show how vignettes based on student experience can be used as a launch pad to unpick the problematic social practices at play within University teaching and support systems. Both of us are PhD students and researchers, one with personal experience of disability support. Addressing the conference theme about inclusive environments, our paper shows how change can be effected by disabled students ourselves. It will begin by presenting several short vignettes written by our group of disabled student researchers at the University of Bristol, which formed the basis of Forum Theatre presentations at a recent workshop, held as part of the ESRC ‘Thinking Futures’ Festival.

The second part of our paper then aims to explore how student researchers can produce sustainable change via staff training.  The paper will draw to a close presenting details of the changes that have been made within the University of Bristol as a result of the work we have done. Our paper raises questions about co-production and sustainability; we consider how changes to university culture and practice can be understood and challenged.

Paper 2: Hidden and discursive barriers: taking apart the ‘common sense’ assumptions in university talk. >

Val Williams and other panel colleagues, University of Bristol.

Themes: Change; co-production; disability; social practices

‘We are on a hill’ was one of the common-sense ripostes by senior management at a university to requests about disability access, several years ago.  This paper speaks to the conference theme on the barriers to advancing equality and diversity in universities. Specifically, the paper aims to provide a critical reflection on discursive structures that reflect and reinforce notions of inequality, and examples of how these can be challenged at the University of Bristol.

Justifications to maintain the status quo are accomplished through talk and are commonplace in institutions of many types, revealing the ways in which social actors understand the world. Assumptions about the ‘needs’ and difficulties faced by disabled students and staff are built into the social interactions by which educational institutions are run (see Robillard 1998). This paper will present examples of talk which is routinely used to defend the intransigence of HE structures (Titchkosky, 2008), and shows ways in which we can create contexts to challenge and turn around exclusionary talk.  The presentation is not about ‘bad and good practice’, but focuses on wider notions about the ways in which social institutions are brought into being and maintained at the level of interaction.

Paper 3: Disabled Staff in Universities: spaces for solidarity. >

Wendy Merchant, Stephen D’Evelyn and Agnes Bezzina, University of Bristol.

Themes: Change; co-production; disability; social practices

This paper aims to present some routes to change from the perspective of disabled university staff.  A strong force for positive change is for disabled staff themselves to have a voice, and to be leaders and champions for change. But to do that, they need to get together (and to self-declare as ‘disabled’.) This is about making a new culture, or perhaps creating spaces within the dominant culture, where disabled staff might feel stronger about who they are, what their rights are, and how to bring about change.

The paper draws on the experiences of the user-founded, user-led University of Bristol disabled staff forum and the joint unions’ equalities group to take action and overcome organisational barriers to equality and diversity for disabled staff.

We look at several specific instances of creating spaces for solidarity, campaigning on issues, and pursuing agendas with those in authority. We ask how the intersectional experiences of staff members in these groups suggest paradigms for leveraging the relational tension of exclusion. We show how our user-led groups can work towards equality and a re-definition of the centre of power away from an exclusive and normate minority to a pluralist and polyvocal process of consensus-building.

B: Workshop: Working together: How much can we change culture and working practices in isolation?

Dr Kate Williams (University of Leicester) and Professor Candy Rowe (Newcastle University).

Themes: Strategic leadership; engagement; inclusivity; synergy; leading change

There is no doubt that individual departments and institutions are working hard to change policies and culture in support of fairer and more inclusive working environments. But how much can we do alone within the walls of our own institution? Should we not all be coming together to share our experiences and provide evidence-based solutions for what are clearly sector-wide challenges, and learn more from innovative practices in the private sector?

Our aim is to articulate the case for why we need more co-ordinated activity across universities. We face common challenges, and strategic Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) teams can learn a lot from the successes and failures at other institutions if we are candid enough to share them. Universities can provide extended support to each other, but working together, could also start to address bigger issues that we tend to be powerless to address alone.

Our interactive workshop will draw on own experience, as well as that of participants and people outside the sector, to ask:

  • What are the key overlaps in institutional approaches to EDI?
  • How can we better network to influence and lobby for sector-wide change?
  • How can we benefit from working outside the sector to progress EDI?

C: Workshop: Cracking the concrete ceiling: systemic change for the advancement of BME leaders.

Professor Jan Fook (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Tracy Bell-Reeves (Leadership Foundation for Higher Education).

Themes: System leadership, ethnicity, change, progression

There is much work to be done to tackle the well documented systemic challenges that currently act as barriers for the progression of BME leaders in higher education. The Leadership Foundation for Higher Education is currently piloting leadership development interventions designed to support the career progression of BME leaders and has also commissioned a two year study to track the progress of these leaders, the impact of the programme itself but also most importantly, to look at those conditions within higher education institutions that positively and negatively impact on BME aspirant leaders.

Professor Jan Fook is the leader of the study team, drawn from both Leeds Trinity and ECU and who are due to submit their final report in 2018. This workshop will share some of the early findings at the midway point of the study around the organisational context and invite participants to engage in a facilitated discussion framed around these initial conclusions and contributions as to potential future actions. Professor Fook will be joined by Professor Fiona Ross of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and other members of the study team.

D: Workshop: Using behavioural insights to improve student engagement through randomised controlled trials.

Anne-Marie Canning and Lucy Makinson, King’s College London.

Themes: widening participation; behavioural insights; student engagement; social belonging; nudge theory

This session will present findings from a collaborative project carried out by King’s College London and the Behavioural Insights Team, which explores whether behavioural insights interventions can be effective in increasing student engagement and sense of belonging. Session attendees will develop an understanding of the key principles of behavioural science and how to apply them in their own institutions. We will address the role of data for identifying challenges and evaluating interventions and demonstrate how machine-learning techniques can shape the way we use student data to create targeted interventions which maximise impact.

Participants will be introduced to behavioural insights approaches through five text message based randomised controlled trials (RCTs) run by King’s and BIT. Each trial tested at least two different forms of the messages anchored in different behavioural insights, enabling us to unpick what considerations may be driving dis/engagement. Results have been compared between WP and non-WP student groups.

In addition to the RCTs, KCL and BIT have been running a six wave panel survey involving 760 first year students. The survey tracks the wellbeing and actions of students throughout the year. Key results from the panel will be shared, which provide additional context for the trial results.

Participants will have the chance to apply the behavioural approach to challenges faced by their own institutions, and to consider the best way they could test and evaluate solutions.