Imperial College London

European universities collaborate to encourage sector leadership on equality

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Diversity illustration

Imperial has collaborated with the League of European Research Universities to investigate approaches to advancing equality, diversity & inclusion.

On 19 September, the League (LERU) presented its policy paper on equality, diversity and inclusion at an event in Brussels chaired by Imperial's Vice-Provost (Education), Professor Simone Buitendijk, the lead author on the paper. Professor Stephen Curry, Assistant -Provost EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion), co-authored the paper and also spoke at the event.

"It is time for universities to act to ensure we are using the vast talent in our institutions, improving staff and student satisfaction, and enhancing our societal and global impact." Professor Simone Buitendijk Vice-Provost (Education)

LERU's 23 members, including Imperial, assert that a new approach is required if significant progress is to be made with EDI in universities.

The paper argues that by taking comprehensive, joined-up approach encompassing all aspects of university life, universities can better promote EDI. According to the paper, although strategies targeting specific underrepresented groups can be useful, a more effective approach is to create an environment which is inclusive for all.

Taking the form of a series of best practice case studies from LERU members, the paper also emphasises the importance of university leadership to prioritise EDI. Leaders are encouraged to familiarise themselves with research on bias and discrimination, and take responsibility familiarising themselves with the context of their own institution. Leaders who take the time to engage with this evidence are found to be better equipped to identify solutions that work. Crucially, leaders are called on to empathically listen to underrepresented minority members of the university community to understand their lived experiences.

The LERU report also highlights the importance of making universities' research and curriculum content more diverse and inclusive. Embedding inclusivity across research-intensive institutions is found to encourage practice that benefits all members of the university community as well as the population at large.

Widespread implicit bias within the higher education sector has been identified as an underlying challenge to delivering much needed change. All authors and member institutions agreed that the sector is past the point of debating the existence of bias, and that it is critical that universities learn lessons from the large body of research that now exists.

Professor Buitendijk
Professor Buitendijk

Professor Buitendijk outlined these findings to an audience of higher education policy experts and politicians: "It is time for universities to act to ensure we are using the vast talent in our institutions, improving staff and student satisfaction, and enhancing our societal and global impact.

"We know that issues around equality, diversity and inclusion are already well documented elsewhere. This paper serves as a manifesto setting out specific and identifiable challenges that can be tackled by university leadership right now.

After Professor Buitendijk's presentation a panel of speakers including Mina Stareva, Head of Gender at the European Commission, and Tomas Brage, Professor of physics at Lund University, discussed equality, diversity and inclusion from a policy perspective, with examples of actions from LERU universities’ senior management."By joining together with policy makers, business, funders, publishers and others, we can make a significant contribution to making the world a better place."

Taking a lead

The League of European Research Universities (LERU) is a prominent advocate for the promotion of basic research at European research universities that believe that frontier research plays an essential role in the innovation process and significantly contributes to the progress of society.

Alongside members such as Imperial the League aims to further politicians’, policy makers’ and opinion leaders’ understanding of the important role and activities of research-intensive universities. The 23 members bring together representatives to work on LERU policy development and engage in mutual learning in many areas.

Two female students walking outside Wilson House

As part of this mission the League continually commissions its members to 'think big' and explore issues such as equality, diversity and inclusion across institutions. However what the paper does not do is to provide a simplistic blueprint applicable to all universities. Professor Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of LERU, said: “Universities work in different national and local contexts, and with different strategies for education, research, innovation and societal engagement. We are confident in our hope that the leadership of LERU members will continue to develop and refine their strategies for comprehensive, long-term strategic change in their own institutions.

"As an organisation, LERU will encourage further collaboration among its members on these issues and will engage with other universities, policy makers, governments and funders in Europe and beyond.”

Imperial's inclusive community

From an education, research, staff and student experience, Imperial is hard at work ensuring that equality, diversity and inclusion is implemented in full across the College.

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy builds on existing initiatives and projects across the College. The most visible parts of this work are schemes that benchmark the College against other institutions, such as the Athena SWAN awards, the Race Equality Charter, the Disability Confident employer scheme and the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.

A number of actions in the strategy apply specifically to students, and support the work on learning, teaching and student experience that is already underway. Developing an inclusive curriculum that will attract, engage and support students of all backgrounds and identities is also an integral part of the College's Learning and Teaching Strategy. Interactive teaching based on inclusive research allows students to bring their gender experiences, their cultural background, their experiences based on disability and sexual orientation, and their unique identity into the classroom as part of their learning experience.

Professor Stephen Curry
Professor Stephen Curry

Professor Stephen Curry, Assistant Provost (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion), said: "I was very pleased to be part of the group that has produced this new LERU position paper on the role and responsibilities of research-intensive universities in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. There is something a little ironic in an exclusive group of universities speaking out about inclusivity, but it is vital that we commit to this agenda.

"As we have laid out in Imperial’s own strategy, published last year, integrating considerations of equality, diversity and inclusion into everything that we do will help to ensure that we thrive in a world that has never been more diverse. It will help us and other research-intensive institutions to harness the creative vigour that comes from diverse perspectives, and to build a culture that considers the interests and well-being of staff and students. Success in this endeavour will require action across many fronts but we will progress faster by sharing best practice with our partners in LERU."

'Equality, diversity and inclusion at universities: the power of a systemic approach' by League of European Research Universities, published 19 September 2019

Reporter

Murray MacKay

Murray MacKay
Communications and Public Affairs

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