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Equality, diversity and inclusion in higher education – where are we?

by 'Teleola Cartwright, Susie Hills | Dec 9, 2021 | Governance & Policy, Strategy & Transformation

The next Consulting Fellow we’d like to introduce you to is ‘Teleola Cartwright – an expert in race equality. Susie Hills asked her some questions about where EDI is in universities since the BLM movement – and in particular race equality.

Susie: How did you see universities’ approaches to EDI changing since George Floyd’s murder?

‘Teleola: There was some positivity amongst those committed to EDI after the Equality Act was passed in 2010 and some genuine hope that bodies like the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) would bring change. However, 2010 seems like a high point and there was a steady decline of interest from universities in EDI issues culminating in the disbanding of many projects including the ECU.

The murder of George Floyd inspired a movement that briefly at least put EDI back on the agenda. The Race Equality Charter is one of the most obvious examples of this and has led the sector to start accepting the presence of institutional racism. The extent of institutional racism and other systemic inequalities is still not properly acknowledged but many institutions seem ready to start that journey.

Is the momentum around EDI being maintained?

No. There is a definite slowing in the momentum as other issues like the pandemic and the economy take the spotlight. Whilst the BLM movement created a moment of interest convergence, it may be that the anticipated economic decline creates a moment of interest divergence where austerity takes precedence over equality. However, there are concrete changes that are likely to remain in place such as the Race Equality Charter and for some, now the genie is out of the bottle, the issues may remain forever pertinent.

Has the debate changed?

Yes. There has been a definite shift from trying to convince institutions to engage with projects like decolonising the curriculum to a place where it is almost universally accepted that these changes need to take place. There is however a risk that as these projects are mainstreamed, they become watered down and incorporated into the institutional way of being, losing their revolutionary edge.

Trying to decolonise the systems and structures within the corrupted systems and structure – the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house (Audre Lorde).

What do you think are some of the key indicators that a university is really taking EDI seriously?

Most importantly would be how many staff are employed in roles where EDI is a primary concern. Also,

  • Representation of minoritised groups within the Senior Leadership Team.
  • Evidence in the data that gaps such as the gender and ethnicity pay gaps are low, demonstrating the diminishing of systemic barriers.
  • The willingness to properly engage with critical friends such as the local community and trade unions.
  • A recognition of lived experiences as prior learning within learning, teaching, and assessment.

How can EDI be mainstreamed into all university activities?

By collecting and analysing data on all activities to identify gaps and holding the relevant staff members responsible for those gaps.

Substantive Equality of Outcomes rather than formal Equality of Opportunity must become the measure of success in EDI. This data must generate strategic objectives and KPIs that are valued.

If you were a student and you wanted to know your university was taking EDI seriously, what should you look for?

Universities are generally very good at talking about equality in their marketing materials. I would look beyond the marketing materials to try to discover what universities are doing in practice. Most universities have an awarding gap meaning outcomes for black students overall are less good. Some universities have acknowledged this and are taking actions to change it. I would look at the university’s website to see if they have any published actions to reduce the award gap.

I would also look to see if there are support services specific to those from minoritised backgrounds.

Finally, I would look at the university’s strategic plan to see how important equality issues are in comparison to other priorities.

If you were a member of the governing body, how could you be assured your institution was taking EDI seriously?

I would start by looking at those things a university must publish by law such as gender pay gap reports. Most universities will report a gender pay gap but better institutions will have action plans which contain concrete targets. Some universities also choose to publish data beyond the minimum legal requirements such as ethnicity and disability pay gap reports. The presence of such reports is a good sign but I would suggest interrogating them to see how robust any action plan is.

Finally, I would suggest requesting the Equality Impact Needs Assessments (EINAs) around key policies and procedures. A negative sign for me would be a university that didn’t do EINAs. A positive sign would be meaningful assessments that are rich in data such as breakdowns as to whom the policies have been applied.

‘Teleola Cartwright is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin, the home of experts in higher education strategy and governance. If you would like to discuss EDI in your institution, get in touch.