Brunel University London is committed to reducing the non-continuation rates (commonly known as ‘drop-out rates’) and awarding gaps between students from underrepresented groups. Knowing that an inclusive curriculum fosters a sense of belonging and enables all students to relate to and engage with their academic material, the University wanted to further its work to ensure equitable outcomes for all students and so turned to Advance HE’s “EDI in the Curriculum” collaborative project for expert consultancy guidance, and the chance to work across the sector with other member institutions. The project explored inequalities in student and staff experiences, showing how embedding EDI in all aspects of higher education can help to address these inequalities and transform practice.
Danielle Russo is Head of Student Partnerships and Student Success and Henrietta Spalding is Student Equality and Diversity Manager at Brunel. Here they share how the project was approached, the outcomes and reflect on how the work was received by Brunel staff and the challenges faced.
A working group was set up with representatives from each academic college, the Union of Brunel students, and a range of staff from professional services including equality and diversity, student success, the library, disability and dyslexia services and the academic practice unit.
Views were also sought more widely from students and staff across the university from a wide range of academic library services and academic practice through a survey, focus groups and individual meetings. Over 30 staff and students gave their time and honest reflections on inclusive learning, teaching and curricula and these reflections informed the production of a toolkit with indicators of best practice across a range of themes.
A tiered, reflective toolkit was produced to support colleagues with inclusive teaching and learning, through which all students can be empowered to achieve their full potential.
The toolkit has been launched across the whole institution and used at individual, departmental and university level, demonstrating the need for cross-university engagement, leadership, planning and management, as well as individual buy-in. Danielle says that by working with colleagues across the whole of Brunel, the profile of this EDI project has increased, making it easier to gather examples of best practice to support colleagues new to this area of work.
The next steps for the project include embedding the toolkit within Brunel’s Academic Professional Apprenticeship programme for new academic staff, and in quality assurance processes. Training workshops are also being created to support colleagues with using the toolkit and a web portal to share best practice is being produced.
Working with Advance HE enabled Brunel to progress its work in embedding equality, diversity, and inclusion in the curriculum. Advisors were always on hand to provide support, resources and share their wealth of experience.”
Danielle Russo, Head of Student Partnerships and Student Success at Brunel University London
Senior-level support was essential to enabling and supporting this project. Engagement from both academic and professional services colleagues was invaluable to bring together knowledge, understanding, experience and sharing of best practice. Students and the Brunel Union of Students also played a large role in engaging with the curriculum.
There was a lack of time to develop curriculum material so this proved an obstacle for the team. Whilst there may be a ‘will’ to include material that a person might not know, finding time to seek out and discover new materials is time consuming. Brunel plans to address this in future by offering education sabbaticals for academic staff and by ensuring work in this area is recognised in promotion criteria.
Another challenge to address was the perception that this work is not relevant to all subject areas. Support was provided to colleagues less willing to engage in the project.
Jess Moody, Senior Adviser at Advance HE, led the project to support staff at Brunel to reflect on how to embed inclusive practice in all aspects of the academic cycle. She provided resources, brought institutions together, and supported local leads to hold challenging conversations amongst staff and students.
It’s always a pleasure to work with really committed staff and students who want to make the changes needed to support diverse learners and ensure rich, equitable learning environments.
"Working with Advance HE as a ‘critical friend’ can often act as a catalyst for the really tricky conversations to take place, as well as an opportunity to reflect and acknowledge existing good practice. Our focus is on working to understand an institutional culture and history, and supporting the leaders – at all levels – to ensure their ongoing work is ambitious, informed and sustainable.”
Jess Moody, Advance HE