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callum perry

undergraduate education
callum.perry@uea.ac.uk

shedding the light: widening participation

This policy is exactly what it sounds like. With society being made up of many diverse groups. It is unusual to see students from under-represented groups such as students from low-income families, ethnic minorities or with disabilities, being represented or being ensured that their needs be met on campus.  

This is something all universities must work on to some degree and at UEA we are working with the university to ensure that we have a policy and implementation that puts students’ needs and experiences at the heart of action and change. 

There is the particular aim of raising aspirations and attainment of students from backgrounds which are typically under-represented at university. It is important that the student body feels they have a sense of belonging and that they can identify themselves in all aspects of university life.  

The policy outlines several areas for work which includes curriculum and teaching, environment and assessment and this week I had the opportunity to speak to staff at an event around Widening Participation, explaining to them the importance of ensuring that student experience is looked within everything we do.  

We are really happy to be co-creating and working on this area as we feel it will give the best opportunity for students’ voices to be heard. This was also shown at the event where we heard from real students about their experiences of being BAME on campus. 

We want to see an embedded approach to this policy where we see a deep dive of all aspects, turning them on their head to try and make sure students have an equitable experience. 

I see widening participation as having four key areas to make it realistically accessible for students 

So what is uea(su) doing? 

In terms of students from ethnic minority backgrounds, the “Decolonise UEA” campaign aims to tackle institutionalised racism within the university and help reduce the attainment gap. ‘Eradicate Hate’ is a strand under our NEVER OK campaign where we want to encourage students who witness or are victims of racial hate to come forward and report anonymously their concerns.  

This is one of the first steps to tackling micro-aggressions on campus and taking steps to the goal of eradicating racism on our campuses. We have been working hard on Black History Month to tackle issues such as BAME representation and discussions in STEM subjects, as well as holding question times with the VC to ask what the university is doing to tackle the issues of racism.  

As well as this, we are recruiting BAME Ambassadors in some Pilot schools this year to embed conversations around the student experience of racism on campus. I am also working with course reps on making a guidance infographic about how students and staff can work more positively together to ensure the correct adjustments for students in lectures and seminars are put in place so they can access these more effectively, without the responsibility being on them to find a solution. 

This needs to happen now as Universities UK and the National Union of Students found a 13% gap between white students achieving a 2:1 or first and BAME students achieving the same degrees. The university has also hosted workshops and discussions around mature and disabled students access and participation a UEA and there is also an increasing need to look at commute student experience and what the University and SU can do to support and offer more accessible opportunities to these students.  

Finally, the university has also launched a tool called ALLY on Blackboard; this will ensure that documents uploaded for you on your course are accessible in multiple formats. The next thing that we would like to see is this enrolled out into the library system also.  

The introduction of Capture Technology in the next semester will hopefully offer students with specific learning difficulties the potential to access content in more ways that suit their needs. We are working closely with the university and our course reps on this to ensure students experience is at the heart of this work. 

How can we change this? 

We need universities to be more inclusive, more accessible and more inspiring for BAME students. 

There needs to be a dismantling of hierarchical, opaque and undemocratic institutional cultures; diversifying the curriculum; improving representation of BAME staff and finally instigating improvements for the wellbeing and experience BAME students. 

If you have any questions on any of this I am more than happy to talk. I also have a blog on ALLY and I attended the Aurora Network conference in Amsterdam with Martin last week to talk about inclusivity more widely which you can find more out about here in Martin’s blog 

As always pop in for a chat or coffee – I am here for you all! 

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