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Equality, diversity and inclusion review at Nuffield College, Oxford

Nuffield College commissioned Advance HE to review its current context and practice from an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) perspective. This review was wide-ranging in its content, providing insight into the perceptions and experiences of the various populations within the College to inform an action plan to strengthen EDI at Nuffield. It engaged students, post-docs, professional support staff, and permanent academic staff to ensure that each had a key voice in contributing to the College’s EDI action plan.

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To ensure that the review was thorough, holistic and rigorous, we adopted a multi-pronged mixed methods approach, including:

  • A survey of current members (95 participants overall including 20 academic staff, 28 professional support staff, eight post-docs and 39 students), building on the Equality Survey completed by the College in 2021.
  • Focus groups with each population (including one with academics, one with professional support staff, one with post-docs, and two sessions with students, equalling five sessions in total).
  • Nine in-depth interviews with key members of staff involved in delivering the College’s EDI activities, or with significant leadership responsibilities.
  • A desk-based review of the College’s EDI-related content (including its website, Equality Statements and reports, job descriptions for staff delivering EDI activities, and analysis of the content and initiatives taking place at a sample of comparable institutions).

Overall, 126 individuals contributed to this review, which represents a high degree of engagement relative to the size of relevant populations within the College.

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Outcomes and impact

Although the review has brought to light specific challenges for the College to address, there was a strong sense of community and appreciation displayed by participants across the various streams of data collection.

In adopting an appreciative approach, this review highlights where there are pockets of good practice (such as their EDI-related events, student representatives, staff council for professional support staff, and funding for EDI activities) and which actions or resources are particularly important in contributing to a positive and equitable culture.

Key findings include:

  • Participants frequently described the College as fostering an inclusive, supportive culture that supports a strong sense of belonging among its members. However, some groups of participants (e.g. female staff and participants with a disability) were less confident to seek support.
  • Professional support staff described certain practices, such as having a shared space, a Staff Council and not using titles, as being particularly valuable in building this sense of inclusivity, while academic staff and post-docs mentioned College policies (e.g., maternity, flexible working, free meals) in making them feel valued and supported.
  • EDI was perceived as being important to the College, but perceptions of its prioritisation varied across staff and students, and depended on which protected characteristic was being discussed (e.g., recent efforts focusing primarily on gender and sex, and less attention to other protected characteristics such as gender identity and sexual orientation).
  • Experiences of discrimination, microaggressions and bullying and harassment tended to be related to gender and sex, and overrepresented amongst student participants. However, these experiences were comparable to national statistics.
  • The most frequently mentioned barriers to progressing EDI were staff capacity and confidence, as well as a lack of clarity around the College’s specific EDI objectives and where these responsibilities lie.

The research culminated in a series of tailored recommendations for the College to improve its EDI agenda and spark cultural change. Since reviewing the results, the College has turned to the practical implications of implementing these recommendations, including:

  • Disseminating the results through the College governance structures and obtaining approval to progress the recommendations.
  • Increased staff and student awareness of EDI issues, with a clear evidence-base shared across the College.
  • Creating additional staff capacity to facilitate creation of an EDI action plan and embed additional business-as-usual EDI activity.
  • Maintaining engagement through communications and activities for College members, and recruiting applicants to an EDI working group.
  • Developing a new set of EDI Objectives for the College.
  • Commissioning facilitated workshops to develop an action plan and evaluation approaches for each objective.
We are delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Advance HE on a thorough and research-led review of EDI at Nuffield. Having the benefit of independent and expert advice and support throughout this process helped us enormously to identify our EDI priorities in an evidence-based way and to begin to formulate an action plan with greater confidence and knowledge."

Eleni Kechagia-Ovseiko, Senior Tutor, Nuffield College

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About the Researcher

Dr Amanda Aldercotte, Head of Knowledge and Research 

Amanda has led Advance HE’s research team since 2017 and has established the team’s unique position as qualified researchers working within the realms of higher education and equality, diversity and inclusion. Amanda’s expertise lies in quantitative methods, including designing and analysing surveys, undertaking impact evaluations for social programmes, analysing national datasets to extract trends over time and using longitudinal datasets to depict developmental changes. 

Under her management, the team has been awarded several large high-profile grants from sector bodies such as UKRI, TASO and the Office for Students. On a recent project commissioned by TASO, she co-led a team of researchers to facilitate the development of Theories of Change and evaluation plans at six UK higher education institutions, each of which were in the process of implementing own unique initiatives to address their ethnicity degree awarding gaps. 

Amanda completed a PhD in Developmental Psychology at the University of Cambridge in 2016, focusing on how children’s socioeconomic background interacts with their cognitive and social development. 

Amanda Aldercotte