The Decolonisation of the curriculum project
The Decolonisation of the curriculum research project addresses the undergraduate attainment gap between white and BAME students in the disciplines of Politics and International Relations and Philosophy at UNUK. This collaborative project is funded by the Education Partnership Fund and is spearheaded by Dr Helen Williams from Law and the Social Sciences, external consultant Dr Vipin Chauhan, Professor Andy Fisher and Dr Helen McCabe. This project brings together 20 members of staff from 12 Schools across five Faculties.
The underpinning hypothesis is that a lack of diversity and inclusivity in curriculum content, delivery and assessment can impact white-BAME student award gaps. Currently the BAME attainment gap stands at 20% in Politics and 18% in Philosophy. Underachievement in education has further implications, creating a bottleneck which negatively impacts BAME recruitment and promotion patterns and outcomes. This, in turn, reinforces the hurdle of a paucity of BAME role models in senior and leadership positions, creating a vicious cycle. The main research question is whether the decolonisation of the curriculum can close the attainment gap. While this research question cannot be proved within 18 months, the project opens the opportunity for ongoing opportunities to pool best practices together and investigations into ways of closing the attainment gap.
Having mapped out decolonisation initiatives across these two Schools, the project draws the conclusion that UoN is lagging behind in initiatives for transformational changes in the decolonisation of curricula, while University College London, the University of Exeter, Leeds Becket Centre for Decolonisation, De Montfort University and the School of Oriental and African Studies London have set themselves up as trailblazers in including gender and ethnicity diversity into mainstream curricula.
The findings of this study suggest that, despite the pioneering role of UoN in transnational education and despite a strong EDI Strategy Plan, the organisation harbours strong resistance to decolonising the curriculum. The study reveals that only a minority of staff are willing to decolonise the curriculum. Staff in some Faculties do not think that EDI applies to them or are reluctant to think through the colonial dimensions to their work. Resistance comes from both staff and students. A ‘Students as Change Agents’ Initiative was set up to champion the cause of decolonisation. Although a number of students had volunteered, nobody turned up for the first meeting and there is reason to believe that they may have been coerced or peer-pressured by those students who are resistant to this initiative. “The conundrum of EDI in an age of consumerism”, says Vipin Chauhan, “is that mainstream students are not interested in the decolonisation of the curriculum and insist, as customers, on being provided with learning that is exclusively relevant to them.”
While the project leads agree that curriculum change cannot be imposed, it needs to take place in conversation. There is also a clear sense that unless there is political will and an official institutional stand from UoN in support of the decolonisation of the curriculum as an integral part of the values of the University, this project will not have the impact that it deserves. Formal institutional support would also take the form of enhanced induction programmes for staff and students, which would spell out racism and sexual abuse reporting mechanisms with clear details about investigation, consequences, procedures, and would therefore create an awareness of covert discrimination, chilly climates and microaggressions right from the point of entry of students and staff at UoN.
The project has succeeded in creating a Community of Practice and an online platform with resources to encourage and support academics in building diversity in the content, process, assessment, methods, and approaches to curricula. A series of publications will be out in the next year and the Project leads are working towards providing strategic influence on the Race Equality Charter Student Experience Working Group. Although the project is currently piloted in the Schools of Politics and International Relations and Philosophy, the aim is to identify and communicate a replicable mechanism to share best practices across all Faculties.