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Exploring a holistic approach to equality, diversity and inclusion

A key commitment in Advance HE’s strategy is to explore the potential of a holistic approach to EDI that will support members to maximise their impact across all equality areas.

Key Updates From The Project

Blog - ‘Holistic approach to EDI’ – project update

13 December 2023
Dr Ruth Gilligan, Assistant Director for UK Equality Charters, provides an update on Advance HE’s ‘holistic approach to EDI’ project which is entering a Discovery Phase.
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Blog - Advance HE announces next steps in supporting UK HE to develop more holistic and strategically aligned approaches to equality, diversity and inclusion.

27 September 2023
Advance HE is committed to ensuring that our support for equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in higher education remains innovative and responsive to sector challenges.
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Report - Exploring a holistic approach to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

27 September 2023
This report brings together all the findings from the consultation and shows a lack of alignment in the current system of EDI activity and accreditation.
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Advance HE is an organisation that is ‘of and for’ the sector, and we are dedicated to continuously innovating and adapting our efforts to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in higher education, in order to most effectively address the challenges facing our members. This was recognised in our 2021-2024 strategy, wherein we pledged to investigate a holistic approach to EDI. This commitment arises from our members' expressed aspiration to adopt a more strategic and integrated approach, across and beyond the protected characteristics of UK equality legislation. 

What a more holistic approach (or approaches) to EDI work might look like is yet to be determined and Advance HE is keen to do-develop an understanding of what could be effective with our members. A potential approach could, for instance, allow institutions to focus on equalities that have the most impact for them – be it a disability, socio-economic status, poverty, health, wellbeing; it could be a singular focus or combination that suits their context. It could also enable institutions to take a more holistic approach and be more joined up in their equalities work, which may currently be siloed. 

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Register for project updates to keep informed on the progress of the project.

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Advance HE recognises that any new EDI approach may not be the preferred option for institutions. If the project findings indicate there is the appetite for something new, it could sit alongside Athena Swan and REC and provide an option for institutions to engage with. 

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Sector Consultation Exercise

During 2022, a team from Newcastle University ran an independent consultation exercise with the sector, commissioned by Advance HE. Guided by a representative sector advisory group, the consultation explored the potential for a new holistic approach to EDI work, with the chance for everyone to provide their views and shape the next steps taken by Advance HE. 

The consultation aimed to: 

  • collate and understand stakeholder views on the range of potential benefits, opportunities and risks of developing a holistic approach to institutional EDI accreditation to sit alongside Athena Swan and the REC. 

  • gather existing practice and lessons learned from members’ efforts to take a holistic and strategic approach to EDI activity, including the work of international members and partners engaged in Advance HE’s licenced equality charters. 

  • produce a robust evidence base to frame recommendations for how Advance HE should invest in and develop its EDI activity to support the sector to be effective, efficient and impactful. 

Find out more about the Newcastle University research team and advisory group here

The consultation involved 279 stakeholders, including a survey, interviews, submissions, and consultation events. The majority of stakeholders expressed support for Advance HE to progress on the development of a holistic approach to EDI.  

The consultation findings also identified current challenges to alignment across EDI work, the concerns shared by members about the risks of taking a broader approach, and the appetite for embracing a more intersectional and holistic approach – though recognising that there is as yet no shared understanding of what a ‘holistic approach’ would mean in practice. 

The full research report from Newcastle University has now been published and we’d encourage stakeholders to review the data and findings.

Read the report
Report cover

You can also read a blog by Dr Ruth Gilligan, reflecting on the findings.

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Discovery Phase 

Building on the findings of the sector consultation exercise, during the 2023-24 academic year Advance HE will be undertaking a discovery project to explore in more detail how members currently work and how they can be supported in taking a more holistic approach to EDI. The project aims to better understand existing EDI structures and related practice, identify potential mitigations against current challenges and concerns, and develop a proposal of next steps to pilot with the sector. 

In Autumn 2023, we will be reaching out to a representative group of UK members to participate in the discovery phase – aiming to engage with a wide range of institutions of different types, sizes and geographies. The work will include gathering in-depth case studies on EDI practice across institutions, targeted interviews, a data-focused collaborative workshop, and roundtables exploring emerging themes.  

All members will be kept informed of progress and emerging themes, and will be offered opportunities to engage through a series of blogs and roundtable events. 

Keep updated on the project

Register for project updates to keep informed on the progress of the project.

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About the Research Team

The Newcastle University (NU) team was led by Professor Judith Rankin, NU Dean of EDI, and the project was being managed by Freya Douglas Oloyede, a member of the EDI team and experienced EDI research consultant, with research support from a Research Associate and postgraduate students. Other members of the wider team included: 

  • Professor Julie Sanders, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost 
  • Naomi Oosman-Watts, Director of Student Life and Co-Chair of Newcastle’s Race Equality Network and REC SAT 
  • Alison Shaw, Professor of Practice for Inclusive Education 
  • Dr I Lin Sin, Research Associate 
  • Daniel Jones, Research Assistant 
  • Paul Britton, Head of EDI and colleague wellbeing, and other members of Newcastle’s EDI team. 

Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Newcastle University
Judith Rankin
Judith is Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Newcastle University providing strategic leadership to the EDI agenda and professor of maternal and child health within the Population Health Sciences Institute.

Senior Consultant, EDI
Advance HE
Freya Douglas Oloyede
Freya Douglas Oloyede is a Senior Consultant in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at Advance HE. She is an experienced EDI manager, researcher and consultant and has worked extensively across the higher education sector since 2010 providing EDI-related policy and strategy development, training, research and evaluation for institutions, sector bodies and funders.
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The Advisory Group

An independent Advisory Group was established to guide the work, chaired by Professor Quintin McKellar, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire and a member of the Advance HE Board. The group contained representation from a diverse range of UK Advance HE member institutions and relevant sector organisations and expertise in relation to EDI practice within the sector, the Athena Swan and Race Equality Charters, human resources, student access, participation and outcomes and the HE sector policy landscape. 

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