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Attracting diversity: University of St Andrews

Lessons learned

  • It is important to spend less time on creating an ambitious suite of long term actions and focus more on short-term project outputs.


St Andrews is the oldest of Scotland’s four ancient universities.


By participating in the programme the university aimed to ensure that the working, studying and visiting environments are fair and that all students succeed, regardless of protected characteristics.

In order to further diversify in its student intake it planned to

  • Identify potential entrants’ perceptions of the institution through focus groups/surveys
  • Investigate the role of benchmarks, and gain examples of effective admission policies and processes specific to the Scottish context. It would then seek guidance on possible actions by conducting an equality impact assessment on current admission processes.

The university also aimed to meet the short and long term needs of people with access or impairment related requirements, in order to improve their experiences in all environments. It also planned to develop institutional policies and practices based on analysis of positive or negative impact, in order to ensure non-adverse impact and that there is a positive experience for people of different backgrounds.

Planned outcomes

By July 2015, the team at St. Andrews would have identified points in the pipeline – from expression of interest, application, offer, acceptance and matriculation – where diversity diminishes. This information would be shared with the relevant staff who would be invited to work with the team to identify actions to prevent, or even reverse, the effect.

Meanwhile, any action that might increase expressions of interest from a more diverse population can have only positive impact. Therefore, every school’s equality and diversity officer will be responsible for generating an action plan for their school, with SMART goals, to increase outreach activity with the express aim of improving the diversity of the applicant pool.

In the medium to longer term (2015/16 to 2016/17) the university would have achieved increased applications and entrants from a more diverse group – data would be provided by registry on the application diversity profile.

Successes to date

  • The launch of an online student diversity training module (which would be compulsory for all new students commencing in September 2015) was the university’s main success thus far. The university regards the compulsory aspect as a huge step for total institutional inclusion as it is extremely rare within the UK HE sector.
  • The team feels its first meeting with the ECU facilitators in October 2014 worked well. The facilitators provided direction to the newly formed group, which included admissions, equality and diversity and a vice-principal.
  • A direct impact of the project has been how the university uses sector benchmarking student data. For example, by monitoring data published by the SFC on Scottish student diversity in HE, a positive promotional step was taken to reach Scottish black and Asian applicants by funding to sponsor the Young Scot award for cultural diversity.
  • With respect to wider engagement with staff and students across the institution, responses are being analysed from student diversity related surveys that were conducted for Athena SWAN charter activity in the science schools and for the Race equality charter across the university.
  • The principal’s office is now committed to providing a member to chair the working group and support for staff from admissions; registry; HR; equality and diversity; and from 2015/16 the students’ association will address Scottish student diversity with widening access.


Changes to the post of student representative council for widening access resulted in a lack of consistency in the project. However the student representative council have provided a student officer for 2015/16.

Next steps

  • The team plans to analyse student diversity (equality) monitoring data supplied by the university registry, which is specific to Scottish students. I
  • t will also complete an equality impact assessment on admissions policies.
  • The university strategy for tackling unconscious bias will then begin its work. This will result in staff and student training through online, video and in-person sessions, plus the implementation of an active bystander approach for staff and students.
  • The team also seeks to work on another version of the project that will involve local further education partners.