Working in Higher Education (HE) encompasses so much more than academia — and the best HE practitioners are alert to the central role inclusion plays in the university experience as a whole.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews speaks to Dr Danielle Tran, Director of Education at the University of the Arts London about efforts made throughout her HE career to enhance inclusivity and diversity at the institutions she has been a part of.
UAL is an art and design university made up of six colleges across London. I joined as the Associate Dean of Academic Enhancement, then stepped into the interim Dean of Learning, Teaching and Enhancement role before recently being appointed Director of Education. I help develop and deliver teaching and learning strategies across the institution.
What’s funny is that after graduating with a BA, I never left HE. I went on to do an MA, and then a PhD, during which I began teaching and then taking up different roles within various institutions. I’ve always enjoyed opportunities to work collaboratively with student union colleagues, students, and staff, together grappling with complex institutional issues to inform positive change.
The remit of work I’m in can be categorised in different ways, whether that’s teaching and learning, education more generally, or under the umbrella of student experience or student success and support. This highlights how interconnected these spaces are and why collaborative work is so important to drive positive change in these areas.
The teaching and learning portfolio is wide-ranging and can encompass teaching and learning policies, strategies, initiatives, guidance, programmes, and staff development to name some examples. The work connects with the university’s anti-racist action plan, work to decolonise the curriculum, enterprise and employability agendas, and social justice agendas.
A feeling of belonging can really impact the student experience, and as part of my role, I help to oversee the Teaching, Learning and Employability Exchange — a central department within which lies the Careers and Employability team (led by Richard Sant), the Academic Practice team (led by Dr Sérgio Fava), and the Academic Enhancement team (led by Siobhan Clay).
Collaborative work is so important to drive positive change in these areas.
The teams strive for inclusion and belonging as a thread informing all of their work. The meaning of belonging can differ, and measuring this can be complex — it’s not just what we do but how the work is approached, communicated, and delivered that we also need to be mindful of.
One of the strands of work led by the Academic Enhancement team focuses on fostering belonging and compassionate pedagogies. The team design and deliver staff development work with course teams across the colleges to impact curriculum and assessment. The work is evaluated as part of the team’s Access and Participation Evaluation Plan.
There is also work happening in the team that brings together curricular and extracurricular work, helping to foster student belonging by working with underrepresented students and valuing their lived experiences. Belonging is connected to the relationships that we have, and when working in HE, we all play a role in helping to create spaces that can enhance and foster student belonging.
This has taken various forms across UAL over the years; we have targeted course team offers, and staff development opportunities. Colleges have focused learning and teaching days, college-based activities, and there are a number of student-staff initiatives too.
One of the most recent pieces of work has been the sponsoring of a university-wide awarding gaps review by our DVC Education, Professor Roni Brown, to inform recommendations to progress work in this area. I’ve helped oversee work carried out by an external review panel. The review takes an analytical look at UAL’s awarding gaps related activity, to gain a better understanding of how the range of initiatives has influenced change — what works, what can be done better, and how it connects with the data we are seeing.
Like other universities, UAL has internal support mechanisms and signposts to external support. Raising awareness and understanding of specialist support services, networks of support and key contacts for students and staff is very important, as well as understanding university policies and processes of reporting such as the universities sexual misconduct policy.
It’s also important to regularly review policies and reporting tools to consider the extent to which they are fit for purpose, to help determine changes that may be needed to continuously enhance student safety, as well as considering how related processes and structures can help to inform a culture of care and respect on campus.
Be open and proactive towards authentic collaborative ways of working, with staff across teams, students and student union colleagues.
There are so many people in HE and EDI spaces that I admire. I have had the privilege of working with friends and colleagues in ways that were unexpected to shine a spotlight on agendas such as decolonising the curriculum, which is close to my heart, and an example of this is working with Dr Bernadine Idowu and Nelly Kibirige.
Bernadine is Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at The University of West London and the founder of the BME Early Career Researcher Conference. Nelly is a Senior Management Consultant in People-Centred Change at PwC UK, but who has also worked for many years in HE too. The work that they have both done and continue to do with young people, mentoring, and empowering students and staff of colour is influential. We’ve worked on projects together, given talks together and I have such respect and admiration for them because the work they do within the EDI space isn’t approached as simply a part of their job, the values of equity and inclusivity infuse all of what they do.
Though not described as books, a valuable set of readings that comes to mind are the Terms of Reference journals by Shades of Noir. Shades of Noir was created in 2009 by Aisha Richards and the breadth and depth of the team’s work covers a variety of streams, and they also publish work including the Terms of Reference journals. But these are much more than journals, they’re powerful vehicles of knowledge, thought, questions, helping to increase awareness, understanding, and inform positive change across a number of areas including language and social justice teaching to name some examples. The issues explored across the Terms of Reference also reference sector data, bringing together different factors that inform sector discussions.