A commitment to equality and diversity by Higher Education Institutions goes well beyond the statutory duty. We should ensure that our institutions are accessible to under-represented students, and that HE staff are recruited and treated fairly, simply because it is the right thing to do.
In my capacity as governor at the University of Bath, I am council representative on the university’s Equality and Diversity Committee. I am pleased that evidence is at the heart of our committee discussions (the analysis of equality data is an interest of mine). We draw data from a variety of sources: research published by the Sutton Trust, for example, or Equality Challenge Unit; data provided by HESA and UCAS as well as my university’s own analyses of staff and students.
Assessing a university’s progress on equality and diversity is an inherently multi-dimensional process. A key current point of reference is the university’s access agreement with the Office for Fair Access, but there are also other initiatives that provide frameworks and external scrutiny, which governors can take assurance from. Athena SWAN, for example, has become a powerful tool for advancing gender equality for staff in the sector, initially in science and technology and now more widely. And the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework promises to include equality data.
The tone and substance of debate around equality and diversity in a higher education setting have improved in recent years. But universities still need to work hard to establish their own approaches for recruiting a diverse student body, for example, bearing in mind that there is a range of factors that come into play when a potential student is deciding whether to enter higher education, and – if so- what to study and where. As with all equality and diversity objectives, the key is perseverance to find the right approaches which are successful in the institution.
Michael Hipkins, University of Bath, lay member of Council, lay member of the Equality and Diversity Committee. Also, deputy chair of the Council of Buckinghamshire New University.