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Increasing Diversity: University of Gloucestershire

University of Gloucestershire discusses lessons learned to date on project to increase BME student recruitment to Media and Teaching (part of ECU's Increasing Diversity project)

“The project has acted as a catalyst for a number of other significant pieces of work”

The University of Gloucestershire partnered with ECU’s Increasing Diversity Project in autumn 2016 to investigate barriers to recruitment for BME students, and design initiatives to remove or minimise those barriers. Here the university shares some of its experiences so far in its own words:

Top three key lessons to date:

  1. The Challenge for the project team was to stay focussed on our original research priorities. The exploration of the data revealed interesting areas that, whilst not part of our original priorities, aroused our curiosity on issues that could have taken us off on a completely different tangent. Reminding ourselves of our vision for the project helped keep us on track, along with the occasional reminder from our project sponsor; whilst she didn’t attend the meetings, she input via electronic communication: A share point site was created so that colleagues could access and add information along our journey.
  2. The team also had concerns that without a researcher as part of the team our proposed research might not be sufficient. However, the ECU Project Lead not only reassured us of the validity of our planned qualitative research, but also shared some published quantitative research to complement our research, re-energising the team.
  3. A final lesson, and challenge, for us was how long it takes to achieve pieces of work when you are reliant on the engagement of partners. Our lead-in times and delivery of focus groups took much longer than our original timescales.

A bit of background:

The University’s vision is to enable transformation, particularly for our students. We want each student, during their time at the University, gain the skill, knowledge, insight and confidence to transform their own lives for the better. We want each graduate to leave equipped to achieve their potential more fully and ready to pursue their ambitions more successfully, for the benefit of society, their families and themselves.

We pursue this purpose of transformation through relationships. We want our academic community to be distinguished by the quality of relationships between staff and students, valuing the face to face, operating on a human, personalised scale, and welcoming diversity of views and experience. (As per our Strategic Plan 2017-2022:)

Aims:

In relation to this project our aim is to increase and stabilise the number of UK domicile BME students choosing, and enrolling, on undergraduate courses in the School of Education (ITT) and the School of Media at the University. This links with targets in our Access Agreement as well as our equality objective to “Implement engagement to foster good relations, promote partnerships, widening participation and effective marketing of the University”.

Involvement with this project gave the University access to additional resources, particularly sector expertise and networks at a time when the University was focussing investment on equality and diversity, but had limited capacity. The aim was certainly to address the under-representation of BME students, but also raise the profile of the University’s commitment to equality and diversity, internally and externally.

Planned outcomes:

Given that we still have qualitative research to carry out we are not in a position to have identified short term outcomes. However, our longer term outcomes for the project are:

  • By the end of the academic year 2019-20 our aspiration is to increase the proportion of UK domiciled BME students enrolled on courses in the School of Media to 10% and Initial Teacher Training in the School of Education to 5.5%, reflecting our 2019-20 Access Agreement target for Education.

These targets are reflective of the University’s current, respective BME profile and take account of the geographic profile of our existing students.

Successes so far:

Perhaps the biggest success to date is how the project has acted as a catalyst for a number of other significant pieces of work across the University, as well as engagement by staff in equality and diversity more broadly. The School of Media selected diversity as a key business priority both in the delivery of the curriculum and in its workforce; greater attention is being paid to increase the diversity of external speakers at student facing events; and more staff are engaging in, and taking ownership of activities e.g. The University celebrated Women’s History Month for the first time.

Selection by the ECU as one of twelve universities has really raised the profile of diversity at the University. In 2017 support was given for the introduction of a Diversity Award as part of our annual Staff Awards Ceremony and a Celebration of Diversity Competition for students has been sponsored by the Head of the School of Media.

Challenges so far:

One of the biggest challenges has been to engage our existing students in qualitative feedback via focus groups. We were keen to understand what factors influenced why they chose the University of Gloucestershire as well as gain insight into their experiences whilst they were studying. Whilst there was support from the Student Union in organising focus groups, they proved more difficult to deliver. We didn’t offer any incentives to students, so we might consider that if we run something similar. We did though engage both our full and part time officers who were able to represent the views of students who had spoken to them.

Another challenge was delivering the focus groups with our partners – schools. We secured initial commitment and interest via a clear purpose for engagement and offer of support in return, but it proved impossible to run the focus groups within the original timeline. We took time to build a relationship with the relevant contacts in the schools, which made it easier to be persistent in our communications with them. We always offered support or activities at the same time as we were requesting their commitment. It was still a very long process though.

Next steps:

Our next steps are to pull together an action plan with short and intermediate outcomes following the Theory of Change model that was suggested to us. We are looking to align actions with the timescales for our Access Agreements and the University’s equality and diversity action plan to assist in the monitoring and review of the activities, and alignment with the University’s strategic priorities.

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