How Inclusive Is Leeds Uni? Have Your Say!

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Three friends are trying to watch a baseball game over a fence. They are each standing on top of a crate; however, since they are different heights, only the tallest friend is able to see the game. While everyone is being treated equally because they have the same number of crates, only one person benefits from the situation. Now imagine this: all three friends are able to watch the game because they have each been given the number of crates they need. In the second scenario, the friends are being treated equitably. 

This infographic from Craig Froehle does well explaining the difference between equality and equity. It has been shared on social media countless times since 2012 and while no one seems too bothered by the fact that the three friends are sneakily trying to watch a baseball game without paying, this example has encouraged discussions regarding the kind of support and resources needed in order to ensure that people are being treated fairly regardless of their background. 

Considering the sheer range of different experiences on a university campus, this discussion is particularly relevant in higher education. At the University of Leeds, the conversation has culminated in efforts to work towards institutional standards for inclusive learning and teaching. 

In 2018, the university’s Taught Student Education Board agreed on embedding six baseline standards in all taught student education provision. Among stating that learning and teaching materials will be clear, accessible and made available in a timely manner, the baseline standards maintain that “schools will identify academic inclusivity leads to help embed guidance in local contexts.” To fulfil this pledge, 27 School Academic Leads for Inclusive Practice (SALIPs) were appointed in October 2019 to review existing practices across all faculties. 

While a lot of work has already been done towards furthering inclusivity, it is worth reviewing in closer detail why this work is needed – that is, beyond the simple reason that everyone should get the support they need to excel at uni.

Reflecting on the Inclusive Learning and Teaching Development Project (ILTD), which has been vital in championing inclusivity at the University of Leeds since 2016, Jenny Brady from the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) has identified three main drivers: equality legislation, commitment to widening access and increasing internationalisation. 

Treating equality legislation as a priority means a range of things, from complying with the UK government’s new accessibility regulations regarding digital content to being anticipatory of the needs of students with specific learning difficulties, physical and sensory disabilities, neurodevelopmental conditions and long-term medical conditions, as well as ongoing mental health conditions. Similarly, the project’s commitment to widening access to students from all kinds of different backgrounds touches on aspects such as the much-discussed BAME Awarding Gap. Finally, the increasing internationalisation on campus – over 9,000 international students from more than 170 countries are currently studying at the University of Leeds – calls for an attempt to achieve parity of experience among students with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. 

In order to tackle the barriers resulting from educational, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, as well as disabilities, learning needs and preferences, the SALIPs have started a conversation about inclusivity in taught student education with staff and students. To gather constructive feedback from students, an online survey has just been released. By identifying areas where good practice is already in place, as well as areas where improvement is necessary, the university hopes to meet the six baseline standards. 

Commenting on the ways in which the project was received, Jenny Brady claims that, “staff are really supportive of the need to be inclusive but are mindful that it’s going to take a lot of work in some areas.” Moreover, Brady emphasises that the strive towards inclusivity is not a one-way street, but rather that it should be a conversation. In essence, the current review is an opportunity for students to voice their concerns if they have identified any areas where learning or teaching at the university is not inclusive. She encourages people to speak up even if they might feel like they have an issue that only affects them. More often than not, these issues are shared by others who feel the same way. 

To maintain a partnership between the university and the students, the ILTD project working group has consulted LUU’s Academic Representation Team in designing the survey questionnaire as well as develop the communications. According to Education Officer Abiha Khan, “the ILTD project is an important initiative, which responds to a range of student needs.  LUU has been a close partner, in the development stages and now into implementation. We welcome the inclusive approach which set the tone for everyone, rather than adding on adjustments for particular groups. Academic reps have been involved and consulted throughout, most recently at our Education Assembly.”

While the establishment of more inclusive learning and teaching practices will not happen overnight, student engagement is key to the success of the review. As such, Khan urges students “to take part in the survey when it is launched and talk to your School Rep about the impact this might have on your course.” The survey can be completed until the end of April: https://leeds.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/inclusive-learning-teaching-survey 

You can find more information about the inclusive baseline standards and the ILTD project here. Plus, keep your eyes peeled for ILTD pop-up events around campus starting in mid-February!

Image: Craig Froehle