Thinking Inclusivity

There has been a great deal of news in the last week or so around TEF, the Diamond Report and other related matters. I will aim to provide a summary of developments next week, when the dust has settled a little. For this week I want to talk about something that is not mentioned in TEF at all, and that is the curriculum.

A couple of weeks ago now I attended a conference at Birmingham University on LGBTQ-Inclusivity in the Higher Education Curriculum. This event came out of some work that I was involved in when I was still at Birmingham, before starting my role at Swansea. It has progressed a long way since those early days and it was really gratifying to see sixty-seventy people from universities across the UK, and a couple of international delegates, gathering to discuss how LGBTQ people and issues can become more visible within the curriculum. There were some really interesting papers, including from Alys Einion here in Swansea, and a very high level of discussion.

A number of points came out of the discussions from my point of view. There was an expected emphasis on subject areas like social work, health care, arts and humanities and the social sciences, but there were also interesting debates about how LGBTQ issues also related, and could be incorporated into programmes on maths, science and other less obvious subjects. There was a strong emphasis on highlighting LGBTQ role models, on providing safe spaces within the class for discussion around LGBTQ issues (with a particular emphasis on Trans issues), and on normalising LGBTQ issues within the curriculum, using examples from these communities alongside others that some might consider more conventional. There was also an interesting thread around religion and the perceived conflict in the recognition and awareness of religious beliefs and the needs and rights of LGBTQ people. Some very forthright statements about rights and the need for greater visibility were made on a number of occasions. I was also very struck by some pioneering work that is being done by a Birmingham based charity Educate and Celebrate with primary and secondary schools across England (none so far in Wales) that many universities could learn from.

The TEF really is not interested, in its initial forms, in questions of curricula, and while inclusivity is very important in terms of social mobility as one of the drivers for the TEF (the data in the metrics will be broken down by reference to students from certain localities, ethnicity and disability) this sees inclusivity in relation to attainment or satisfaction and is not really about inclusivity within the curriculum. Those working in the area of ethnicity, where there has been a long standing issue around BME attainment, stress the need to address curricula issues in aiming to deal with attainment issues (questions of visibility, both of teaching staff and within the examples used in the class, so Black and Asian see people like themselves are very important in this debate). The wider issues of inclusivity for its own sake, or in order to develop a more open and accepting community is not addressed in any way.

I do believe that the inclusive curriculum is an important goal in its own right. It should reflect the values of the institution, and we are fully committed to equality and diversity at all levels. It should also aim to develop values and characteristics within our student body during their time with us. It should also provide a context within which all our students are enabled to feel welcome, to feel represented and to believe that they can be true to themselves within the wider university context. An LGBTQ inclusive curriculum, for example, is not only of benefit to those who identify as LGBTQ, is has wider benefits for the university and for society as a whole. Whether the level of inclusivity can ever be measured, however, in the kind of metrics that TEF and related activities require is very difficult to determine.

I am also very aware of many of the difficulties of developing a fully inclusive curriculum. If it is forced, undertaken on a tick box basis, it will actually be more detrimental than beneficial. There will always be tensions between different characteristics. Being LGBTQ inclusive and inclusive of various religious perspectives may be impossible to achieve (a tension that many of us who identify as both LGBTQ and with a particular faith have to live with for most of our lives). The fact that there are difficulties, however, is not a good reason to stop trying, it just makes the challenges involved even more interesting.

It is perhaps easy to focus entirely on those things that can be, and are measured by processes such as the TEF, and it is very important that the University works on the NSS scores, non-completion rates and DELHE scores that feed into the TEF. I also think, however, that we need to keep an eye on the wider issues, the kind of community that we want to be and the kind of graduates that we want to produce. I think that these questions of inclusivity need to be higher up the national agenda, and for that reason it is so very important that conferences such as the one in Birmingham take place. And I see it as part of my role both to keep these matters on the agenda across the University and, through meetings with colleagues at other institutions, within the wider debates around higher education in both Wales and the UK.


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