Article

Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: Bridging Gaps in Access and Participation

Authors: Eirini Tatsi (University of West London) , Sara Raybould (University of West London)

  • Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: Bridging Gaps in Access and Participation

    Article

    Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: Bridging Gaps in Access and Participation

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Abstract

There is growing recognition of the importance of equity/equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in higher education (HE). Sector-wide there are significant gaps between certain groups of students due to inequalities, and in some cases, these are growing year on year. To tackle these challenges, the HE sector in England is trying to embrace EDI and to widen access and participation through Access and Participation Plans (APPs). This article outlines how one university in England, the University of West London, uses its APP to create opportunities to inspire potential and current students to achieve their goals regardless of their background, identity, and/or lived experiences by ensuring cultural harmony across the student lifecycle where equality and equity co-exists. Through developing its APP in partnership with students, known as Equality Champions, the university seeks assure a diversity of thoughts and voice foster a sense of belonging, promote collaboration and innovation and enhance diverse learning and education.

Keywords: Equality, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Access and Participation Plan (APP), Equity/Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education

How to Cite:

Tatsi, E. & Raybould, S., (2024) “Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: Bridging Gaps in Access and Participation”, New Vistas 10(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.36828/newvistas.247

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Published on
07 May 2024
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Over the last few decades there has been a growing recognition of the importance of equity/equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the context of higher education (HE) (Ainscow 2020; Moreu, Isenberg and Brauer 2021; Pickering 2021; Smith 2014; Wang 2023; Wolbring and Lillywhite 2021; Zhao et al. 2024). A growing body of research has identified several factors as barriers in ensuring a greater equality in HE for students coming from underrepresented backgrounds1. Such barriers, like financial pressures, loneliness, mental health and wellbeing issues, low prior attainment of students, insufficient advice and support across the student lifecycleand the prevalence of sexual and racial harassment on campus have affected certain groups of students in accessing and succeeding in HE, as well as progressing to employment or further study (Banerjee 2016; McCabe, Keast, and Kaya 2022; Newman-Ford, Lioyod and Thomas 2009; Poortvliet 2024). Students affected include but are not limited to students from a minoritised ethnic background2, students with low socio-economic status and students with disabilities.

The evidence shows clearly the challenges in terms of access and outcomes in HE for students from underrepresented groups (Bolton and Lewis 2023). For instance, students from a minoritised ethnic background are less likely to achieve a good degree and have lower employment rates in comparison to students from a White background. Nationally, the ethnicity degree awarding gap (EDAG) is 11%, with a significantly higher gap between Black and White graduates. In academic year 2021/22, only 63% of graduates from a Black background achieved a good degree in comparison to 83% of graduates from a White background (Office for Students 2023). The 20% EDAG between Black and White graduates provides further evidence that inequalities exist in the learning opportunities students from a Black background receive during their studies, which consequently affects their future career.

The HE sector in England is, therefore, trying to address gaps and risks around the equality of opportunity between certain groups of students, and to widen access and participation through strategies and policies. A major policy initiative is the requirement on HE providers to produce and submit Access and Participation Plans (APPs) should they want to charge above the basic tuition fee cap. In these plans, HE providers must set out how they will improve equality of opportunity for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access, succeed in and progress from higher education (Office for Students 2018). This article will outline how one university, the University of West London (UWL), develops its APP and associated interventions with a student-informed and student-centred approach in mind, hence creating an environment that enables all students to thrive and succeed.

Embracing Equity/Equality: Fostering Diversity and Inclusion through an ambitious and student-centred APP

UWL’s APP3 aims to create the opportunities to inspire potential and current students to achieve their goals regardless of their background, identity and/or lived experiences. Social belonging is a key predictor of positive student experience that leads to academic and personal achievement (Allen et al. 2022; Allen et al. 2021; Dost and Mazzoli Smith 2023; Walton and Cohen 2007). UWL’s APP has been developed in consultation with students, known as Equality Champions4, to assure diversity of voice, inclusion and a sense of acceptance and identity. Equality Champions are students from diverse backgrounds with a range of lived experiences, which is an important factor in fulfilling the APP’s mission. They act as critical friends who are actively consulted in the creation, implementation and evaluation of APP-related work. By working with stakeholders, Equality Champions shape the direction of the university’s APP and make an important contribution to its whole-provider approach.

As part of the whole provider approach, UWL’s APP is in line with the university’s mission to “nurture talent in all its forms, regardless of social background, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity; and empower its graduates to be confident, healthy, leading career professionals” (University of West London 2024). Equity is a principle embedded in UWL’s APP acknowledging the historical, societal and personal challenges that several cultural and social groups face.

UWL’s APP’s portfolio takes a broad view of widening participation (WP) which encompasses a student’s lifecycle, as seen in Chart 1.

Success

People of the world graduation and education Vector Image

Student Lifecycle Global Graduates

Chart 1: Student Lifecycle

UWL’s student population is very diverse. In the 2022/23 academic year, approximately 49% of students came from a minoritised ethnic background, 56% from the most deprived areas as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and 63% did not have parental experience of HE. Looking at the APP population of UWL5, as seen in Figure 1, evidence on the diversity of UWL students is clear.

Figure 16: UWL student population (2022/23 academic year)

In relation to the broader sector, UWL has a diverse student population as Figure 2 below shows. In the 2021/22 academic year, 43% of the student population came from a minoritised ethnic background which is 8% above the representation in the sector. In addition, 64% of the student body came from the most deprived areas and 34% from a White working-class background.

Figure 27: Data on the UWL student body and that of the Higher Education Sector in England in 2021-22

However, while UWL compares well to the sector in terms of the diversity of its student body, there are challenges where the attainment of certain groups of students is concerned. Sector-wide, the data indicates that students from an underrepresented background are more likely to drop out from their course and less likely to achieve a good degree (Advance HE 2023; Bolton and Lewis 2023; Office for Students 2023). At UWL, such gaps also exist. However, it is encouraging that for some groups of students gaps in attainment at UWL are lower than the sector average. For instance, the EDAG8 between students from a minoritised ethnic background and those from a White background is 8%, which is 3% below the sector average and the EDAG between Black and White graduates is 2% which is 8% below the sector average.

The university has developed a suite of interventions that target risks that exist prior to and from enrolment, through their studies at UWL and beyond graduation. Chart 2 provides a visualisation of the approach that UWL is taking to address OfS priorities (Office for Students 2023).

Chart 2: The UWL APP Student Lifecycle Model

For instance, one of the university’s interventions aims to ensure that sufficient personalised academic and non-academic support is available so that students from underrepresented backgrounds are empowered to continue and complete their studies with a good degree. One of the initiatives undertaken to achieve this goal is the Inclusive Reading List (IRL), which aims to diversify reading lists by developing library resources and course materials that are more inclusive and representative of UWL’s students’ diverse identities. Evidence collected within the university indicates that the initiative contributes to the decrease in the degree awarding gap between minoritized ethnic and White students. Students from a minoritised ethnic background are now more likely to achieve higher grades on modules with high levels of inclusivity in their reading lists.

Another initiative which addresses inequalities and gaps is guides that have been developed throughout the delivery of the Student Attainment Project, a project funded by the Office for Students and delivered by UWL in collaboration with University of Derby and Solent University. Qualitative feedback from academics indicated that the project made a positive contribution to addressing the degree awarding gap between certain groups of students (Tatsi and Darby 2018). Furthermore, students’ feedback showed that the initiative helped provide them with personalised advice and guidance on tackling academic issues in practice, and therefore, helped them perform better academically (Student Attainment Project 2019).

Reflections and APP Commitments

The sustainability of UWL’s APP is achieved via an ongoing cycle of review, consideration and revision of its Theory of Change.

UWL’s APP will continue to guide the university’s work in creating equal opportunities to all potential and current students to access, succeed in and progress from HE. It aims to

  • Foster a sense of belonging, where all students feel part of UWL community regardless of their background, identity, and/or lived experiences, which is essential for student retention, academic success and overall wellbeing.

  • Promote collaboration and innovation by creating specific opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds to feel respected and included. The university’s strategic collaboration with UWLSU and Equality Champions is vital in ensuring a diversity of thought and experience that fosters innovation and creativity.

  • Enhancing learning and education, where students will continue to have the chance to engage with students and staff from diverse backgrounds, learn from different perspectives and develop cultural competences.

Acknowledgements:

The authors of this paper would like to express gratitude to the members of the APP Group, UWLSU and Equality Champions for their invaluable contributions to the APP. Their commitment in ensuring EDI via this work reassures that all potential and existing students can flourish and achieve their goals.

References

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Ainscow, Mel. 2020. "Promoting inclusion and equity in education: lessons from international experiences". Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy 6 (1): 7-16. doi: 10.1080/20020317.2020.1729587

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Bolton, Paul, and Lewis, Joe. 2023. “Equality of access and outcomes in higher education in England”. Commons Library Research Briefing. Accessed March 26, 2024. https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9195/CBP-9195.pdf

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  1. For definition, please refer to the Access and Participation Glossary (Office for Students 2020).↩︎

  2. The authors of this paper understand that some of the readers may not agree with this terminology. The authors are using this term, as in accordance with the Social Inclusion Model it recognises the fact that everyone has an ethnicity, but some people are minoritised by society or systems.↩︎

  3. APP and its summary can be accessed via the UWL Policies and Regulations website (University of West London 2024)↩︎

  4. Previously known as APP Champions.↩︎

  5. As per guidelnes from the OfS, APP population is consisted of UK domicile students studying a full-time first degree.↩︎

  6. The data on ‘UWL all students’ includes all UWL students that the University returned to HESA for 2022/23 academic year. The data on age on entry (i.e., mature data) represents UGFT students.↩︎

  7. Statistics represent OfS data from 2021/22 academic year. This is the official data to evaluate and monitor rates both sector-wide and at an institutional level. The data also represents APP population. To access the APP Dashboard, please refer to Data dashboard - Office for Students (Office for Students 2023).↩︎

  8. Statistics represent OfS data from 2021/22 academic year. This is the official data to evaluate and monitor gaps both sector-wide and at an institutional level. The data also represents APP population. To access the APP Dashboard, please refer to Data dashboard - Office for Students (Office for Students 2023).↩︎