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Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2020

Courageous conversations and adventurous approaches: Creative thinking in tackling inequality 2020 will see Advance HE bring together the annual EDI conference with the biannual Scottish conference into a three day conference with the theme – Courageous conversations and adventurous approaches: creative thinking in tackling inequality.


Courageous conversations and adventurous approaches: Creative thinking in tackling inequality - Supported by the Scottish Funding Council.

The theme of this conference speaks to the reality of EDI work in both HE and FE - a growing focus for attention internally and externally, ambitious, analytical, forward-looking, practical and increasingly complex. As EDI becomes more embedded in institutional values and strategy and becomes more of a measure for the student experience, institutional interest in creative responses to tackling inequality is growing.

Whether focusing on newly emerging issues or dealing with those that are stubbornly persistent, as a sector we can seek inspiration, insight and guidance to navigate the EDI landscape through sharing learning and advancing evidence-based good practice. Learning from both inside and outside the HE/FE sector can stimulate new ideas and innovative approaches to tackling systemic inequalities.

With institutions taking increasingly intersectional approaches to equality work, aspects of inequality once hidden and silenced are emerging in colleges and universities. Once considered taboo, issues such as gender-based violence, decolonisation, the menopause, and privilege, are now emerging areas of discussion and innovation. Creating space for once unspeakable conversations will increase capacity in the sector to examine the experiences of people who may be left behind in traditional approaches to equality and address emerging practical challenges. By linking policy and practice, this conference can facilitate a refreshed perspective to support the sector’s ambitious equality aims.

The three-day conference will focus on:

  1. ensuring that approaches to EDI work for all; and
  2. addressing current and future challenges and opportunities.

Through forecasting emerging EDI topics and priorities in the sector, the conference will create space for reflection and capacity-building through exploring two sub-themes: ‘courageous conversations’ and ‘adventurous approaches’. It will dig deep to explore hidden and emerging EDI issues, and highlight the best examples of creative, courageous interventions that are contributing to change.

Day 1 will have an additional focus on using positive action to advance equality in Scottish colleges and universities. As well as sharing best practice across the sector, there will be a focus on innovative approaches from outside HE/FE.

Date: 17-19 March 2020
Venue: Radisson Blu, Edinburgh
Who: All higher education professionals including colleagues from Scottish colleges.

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Scottish Institutions 

Following feedback from Scottish colleges and universities we have made some changes to the allocation of Scottish Funding Council funded places at our EDI Conference 2020. These changes will ensure more Scottish colleagues can attend Day 1 (Tuesday 17 March 2020) of the conference which is tailored for a Scottish context. This brings our 2020 conference offer to the sector in line with previous Scottish EDI conferences. 

  • Scottish colleges and universities are now entitled to three one-day FREE places for Tuesday 17 March 2020
  • Presenters from Scottish institutions will receive a FREE place (included in their institutional allocation of three funded places)

Please note this does not include the conference dinner which can be booked separately. 

Bookings can be made directly online. Bookings made over your institution’s three free place entitlement may be charged at the standard rate. If you have any questions about booking free places or for more information please contact

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EDI Question Time

On the evening of 17 March 2020, at Advance HE’s three-day conference on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, in Edinburgh, we will hold a ‘Question Time’ session with prominent figures from the HE sector and beyond, ready to address one of the most important EDI issues in education today.

We shortlisted ideas suggested by the sector, and asked you to decide on the most important or pressing issue that you would like our panel to answer.

Voting has now closed. We will reveal the winning question soon. 

Conference structure

The conference will run across three days with delegates welcome to attend the full three days or choose from individual days and evening events.

  • Tuesday 17 March 10am-5pm: Day 1: With a particular Scottish contextual focus relevant for both HEIs and Colleges in Scotland but also of interest for all UK participants to share learning and practice across all nations.
  • Tuesday 17 March 6.30pm onwards: Dinner and Question Time with speakers for senior leaders in Scottish colleges and universities.
  • Wednesday 18 March 10am-5pm: Day 2: Broad perspective for all those engaged in UK higher education and also Scottish colleges.
  • Wednesday 18 March 6.30pm onwards: Reception and dinner for all delegates with evening speakers.
  • Thursday 19 March 10am-4pm: Day 3: Broad perspective for all those engaged in UK higher education and also Scottish colleges.

Conference themes

The theme Courageous conversations and adventurous approaches: Creative thinking in tackling inequality will cover the following sub-themes:

Day 1 (Scotland focus)

  • Leading the change: Embedding strategic approaches to equality in colleges and higher education institutions

    • Mainstreaming equality – embedding a whole-institution approach through cultural and systemic change;
    • Diversity in governance – moving beyond gender balance;
    • Equality impact assessments – developing a strategic approach to effective and proportionate equality activity.
  • Breaking the taboo: Addressing hidden and stigmatised areas of inequality confidently and effectively

    • Sexual harassment in the workplace and tackling gender-based violence;
    • Aging population of the workforce;
    • Race equality, whiteness, privilege and power;
    • ‘Hidden’ gender issues (for example: infertility, miscarriage, maternity/paternity/shared parental leave, breastfeeding/expressing support, menopause, gender and age discrimination etc.).
  • Positive action: Advancing underrepresentation and inequality through targeted initiatives

    • Being brave with positive action;
    • Intersectional approaches to advance equality in student access;
    • Increasing recruitment of disabled staff;
    • Positive action in the promotion process.

Days 2 and 3

  • EDI and leadership

    • Inclusive leadership that really makes a difference;
    • Genuine distributed leadership approaches for hierarchical environments;
    • Strengths-based/neuroscience approaches to managing inclusively;
    • Room at the top/related to top leadership;
    • The role of governance in EDI.
  • Belonging and safe space

    • No right not to be offended? – navigating the tensions between protection from harm and freedom of expression.
    • Supporting staff and students through hidden challenges (i.e. Infertility, miscarriage, infant loss, bereavement, menopause etc.).
    • Rethinking the curriculum (decolonise not ‘diversify’).
  • Bridging the gaps

    • Creative approaches to pay gaps.
    • Sponsorship/mentoring/reverse mentoring: creating the environment that supports the progression of marginalised groups.
    • Increasing provision and uptake of shared parental caring, paternity leave, flexible working.
  • Thinking forward: Effective management of EDI in a changing environment

    • EDI in the global arena: partnerships, international campuses.
    • Ambitious benchmarking/demonstrating impact.
    • Innovative HR practices for recruiting, developing, valuing and rewarding approaches that value EDI.
    • crisis or opportunity  – building reputation and dealing with critical incidents in the digital age.
  • Skills building for EDI change agents

    • Responding to majority privilege – fragility, ownership and allyship;
    • When speaking becomes doing – what makes EDI work effective in creating positive and sustainable culture change?
    • Intersectionality in action – reflecting the lived experiences of staff and students facing multiple disadvantage in EDI work;
    • The power of storytelling: the personal narrative as a tool for change.

Conference outcomes

The conference will:

  • create space to engage with previously less-explored, hidden or ‘taboo’ equality issues and examine/encourage promising practice to address them;
  • increase knowledge and confidence in the college and HE sectors to undertake positive action initiatives to tackle inequality and underrepresentation across student bodies, workforce and governance;
  • improve institutional capacity to make progress on EDI in an increasingly complex environment;
  • engage with leaders and influencers to foster dialogue on embedding a strategic approach to equality in colleges and higher education institutions

Advance HE has acted as a nexus for thought leadership and research into EDI policy and practice in HE and FE. The underpinning evidence base has been built up by and for the sector and is used to inform the work of policymakers and practitioners. With an ever-growing global community of member institutions and a portfolio of thematic communities with global membership, this conference seeks to promote the learning between individuals with a passion for transforming EDI activity in the sector to achieve real change.

"A really well-organised conference with lots on offer; all within a comfortable environment"

- EDI Conference 2018 delegate