Exploring how the University can promote inclusion, equality and diversity in the curriculum

Pixabay [bradhoc]
Pixabay [bradhoc]
There is increasing interest among students and staff in exploring how students experience the curriculum and how it can represent a diverse range of perspectives. There are some great projects already underway across the University, such as the co-creation approach to developing curriculum in the School of Social and Political Sciences, which led to a new pre-Honours undergraduate course on ‘Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World’.

The Senate Learning and Teaching Committee is setting up a task group to consider how action at a strategic level can build on this energy and enthusiasm. Over the next year, the task group – to be convened by Vice Principal Prof Jane Norman – will work with staff and students to consider the role of institutional leadership, academic staff development, and institutional support for curriculum development.

The group will consider a range of key issues, such as:

  • The extent to which the content of curricula in the University includes a diverse range of perspectives representative of wider society, and encourages our students to engage with equality and diversity issues;
  • The extent to which curricula, and approaches to learning and teaching, are engaging and relevant to all groups within the student population;
  • Whether alternate approaches to these issues are required for different types of disciplines (eg for science versus humanities and social science disciplines, professional versus non-professional programmes); and
  • Evidence regarding the relationship between the University’s curricula and learning and teaching, and the differential levels of attainment of different groups in the University (eg with reference to attainment gaps for male and BME students);

As part of this work, the task group will explore the gender dimensions of the curriculum and learning and teaching.

As in society more generally, there are clear issues of women being under-represented within the academic staff population and within the curriculum (e.g. reading lists) in many areas. The group is likely to give considerable attention to this issue.

However, somewhat paradoxically, the increased recognition in the sector that these gendered aspects of the curriculum should be challenged is accompanied by an increasing awareness that attention should also be given to patterns of disadvantage for male students. After a long history of inequality in favour of male students, there are now stark patterns of under-participation, non-continuation and under-achievement of male students. At Edinburgh, men are now almost half as likely as women to study at UG and PGT level (c. 63% of entrants to UG and PGT programmes at the University are female, 37% male), and are also less likely than female students to continue their studies or to achieve a good degree.

This issue is particularly important because sector evidence suggests that male students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are especially likely to experience these patterns of disadvantage. The success of the University’s widening participation strategy may therefore be assisted by greater understanding of these patterns (particularly where they intersect with socio-economic disadvantage) and of whether the curriculum (in its broadest sense) can be developed in ways that can support good engagement and achievement for all students, including male students from all backgrounds, while challenging them in their understanding of equality and diversity issues such as gender power relations.

I look forward to participating in the task group’s work, on what I expect to be a stimulating and exciting set of discussions.

Tom Ward
Tom Ward is Director for Academic Services at the University of Edinburgh. He is interested in how good governance and effective policy and regulation can drive enhancements to the student experience. He has long-running commitment to equality and diversity issues, and has been involved in various relevant projects both at the University and in previous roles at the Scottish Funding Council.

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