Universities often try to be both internationally excellent and inclusive – aims that may appear to be in tension. This project explored policy and practice in three institutions – in the UK, the US and Australia – to identify those points of tension and how they are dealt with, in order to produce a framework of prompts for evaluating practice and to find examples of effective practice.
The two terms “excellence” and “inclusion” require definition, in the former case to extend it from a narrow conception fostered by global league tables and in the latter to increase its span beyond teaching and into research and service. The three institutions in this study are part of the PLuS Alliance, a grouping that aims to foreground service to society, while broadening conceptions of excellence.
Institutional leaders all believed that change was needed so that the universities could demonstrate their relevance to the societies that sustain them. Their inclusive vision in each case tapped into the traditional aspirations of the institution, and thus had the potential to attract the support of staff. A thorough and open consultation process facilitated change. A strong narrative was believed to help influence attitudes and behaviours positively in complex institutions that cannot be micro-managed. Making change happen was challenging, because the cost of being inclusive made it necessary to be very efficient and effective, so choices had to be made about where to invest and where to stop investing.
This project provides a catalyst for institutions to review policy and practices in excellence and inclusion, coming to an informed view about where they currently are and would like to be. By helping to clarify the choices that are made, explicitly or otherwise, it aims to ensure that incentives and motivations to engage in prestige-related practices should not drive out inclusive approaches.