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Exploring a holistic approach to equality, diversity and inclusion

A key commitment in Advance HE’s new strategy is to explore the potential of a holistic approach to EDI that will support members to focus on equalities that have most impact for them

Advance HE has awarded Collaborative Development Funding to a team from Newcastle University to run an independent consultation exercise with the sector to inform the next steps, with a representative sector advisory group guiding the work. This will be an exploration of the potential for a new holistic approach to EDI accreditation, with the chance for everyone to provide their views and shape the next steps.

A potential approach could, for instance, allow institutions to focus on equalities that have most impact for them – be it 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.

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

The consultation aims 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.

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Background to the consultation

Advance HE is an organisation that is ‘of and for’ the sector, and we work collaboratively to support our members on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). Advance HE membership in the UK provides access to the Athena Swan and Race Equality Charters (REC). Previous independent reviews of both charters have demonstrated that they are catalysts for change in relation to gender and race equality, but also identified the high workload involved in participation and a need for reduced bureaucracy, as well as for an increased focus on tackling inequalities relating to combinations of characteristics (intersectionality). Recent and ongoing developments with both charters are aiming to address these areas, including the launch of the transformed UK Athena Swan Charter in June 2021 and ongoing REC development  informed by the 2020-21 review and sector engagement. Meanwhile, the current sector environment is increasing pressure on institutions to be more efficient, effective and impactful, including in relation to tackling challenges spanning all protected characteristics.

A key commitment in Advance HE’s new strategy is to explore the potential of a holistic approach to EDI that will support members to focus on equalities that have most impact for them.

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About the research team

The Newcastle University (NU) team is led by Professor Judith Rankin, NU Dean of EDI, and the project is 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 include:

  • 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.

Professor Judith Rankin

Judith is Dean of EDI at Newcastle University and professor of maternal and child health. Judith first became involved with Athena Swan in 2009 as part of Newcastle’s application for a bronze award and subsequently led Newcastle’s first unit application, achieving a silver award in 2011. Since then, she has supported a number of unit level applications, the University’s bronze renewal in 2012 and successful silver applications in 2015 and 2020, and has acted as an Athena Swan panel member and chair. Judith took up the position of Dean of EDI in 2015 to provide strategic leadership to the EDI agenda, which has involved broadening the agenda to take an intersectional approach. Judith chairs the University’s EDI Committee, University Athena Swan SAT and is a member of the University’s REC SAT. She led the University’s application to become a University of Sanctuary, successfully achieved in 2021. Judith has also been involved in sector research relating to EDI.

Freya Douglas Oloyede

Freya is part of the EDI team at Newcastle University and leads on strategic EDI projects as well as Athena Swan at University-level. Freya has worked in EDI in the HE sector since 2010, including six years as Programme Manager at the Equality Challenge Unit. She is also an experienced EDI consultant and has worked extensively across the sector providing EDI-related policy and strategy development, training, research and evaluation for institutions, sector bodies and funders. Her recent consultancy projects include leading phase 2 of the review of the REC in 2020-21. She is also on the board of Inclusion Labs, a new organisation piloting an EDI accreditation scheme for schools.

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The Advisory Group

An independent Advisory Group has been established to guide the work, chaired by Professor Quintin McKellar, Vice-Chancellor of University of Hertfordshire and a member of Advance HE Board. The group contains 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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Providing feedback on a new holistic approach to EDI

Consultation survey

The online consultation survey provided the chance for anyone from a UK institution to provide their views and feedback.

The survey formed part of a larger project involving interviews and engagement events with diverse stakeholders on their views, as well as gathering practices and lessons learned from existing work. 

The online consultation survey seeked to understand from its participants:

  • what accreditations their institution currently engages with and how well these meet their needs
  • how their institution is currently taking a holistic approach to EDI at an organisational level and what challenges they experience
  • the potential benefits and risks of developing a new approach to EDI accreditation
  • whether the sector should further explore a new option for EDI accreditation
  • what their institution might like to see if a new approach is developed

Sorry, the online survey is now closed.

Consultation sessions

A series of consultation sessions were undertaken at the beginning of July 2022. These sessions were facilitated by the project team, colleagues from across Newcastle University and Buckinghamshire New University. The sessions were:

  • A scoping workshop with EDI and Charter practitioners
  • A roundtable discussion with senior EDI leads
  • A roundtable discussion with student access, participation and outcomes colleagues
  • A roundtable discussion with small and specialist institutions, supported by Guild HE


Interviews are being conducted with the following individuals:

  • Heads of institutions and deputies
    Heads of institutions (e.g. VCs and Principals) and deputies (e.g. DVCs)
  • Sector EDI leads and other stakeholders
    To ensure all perspectives are included, the research team have approached individuals if any gaps are identified
  • International members and partners
    Representative from Advance HE’s international members and partners involved in its licensed international equality charters are also being interviewed.
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Tell us about your existing holistic EDI practice

Has your institution already developed practice that takes an integrated or holistic approach to your EDI work? Please tell us about this by downloading, completing and submitting the form below to

Examples may include but are not limited to:  

  • integrated structures and/or systems for EDI or charters
  • working in partnership in developing EDI activity, bringing groups, interests and perspectives together
  • holistic or integrated EDI action planning
  • strategic and integrated consideration of socio-economic status or poverty, or health and wellbeing, alongside EDI 
  • whole institution approaches to other areas of equality, such as disability or LGBT inclusion
  • use of data and evidence across and beyond the protected characteristics to identify institutional priorities
  • integration with work on other accreditation or award schemes
  • alignment with Public Sector Equality Duty requirements, such as equality objectives or outcomes
  • use of equality analysis/impact assessment to embed EDI considerations across strategy, policy and practice

The research team will follow-up with a selection of submitted examples to gather further information. The evidence you provide will help the research team to develop a picture of existing practice to be included in the final evidence report.

Deadline for submissions: 1 August 2022

Developing a holistic approach to equality, diversity and inclusion:

Existing practice form

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