Let’s talk about inequalities, inclusion and belonging – by Prof. Kathy Armour, PVC Education

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In order to open the Big Conversation 2019, I thought it would be helpful to consider the issue of inequalities. While it is difficult to prioritise any one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the challenge to reduce inequalities is particularly pertinent. In our University, we can see inequalities in action because we have gaps in access, attainment and employment outcomes for different groups of students. We also know that inclusion and a sense of belonging are key features that impact on student progress and success.

In short, some of our students do not feel that this is a place where they fully ‘belong’. So, the question is: how can we establish a more inclusive learning environment that generates a sense of belonging for all our students?

Across our University we already have some outstanding work underway to address these issues, and this Conversation opens with two examples. One Blog has been written by students in the Law School who are working with staff to better understand the issues faced by BAME students. The second Blog has been written by staff in the School of Government and Society who have employed an external advisor to help them to focus on inclusion in their curriculum and practices. Both are examples of actions from which we can all learn, so many thanks to these contributors for sharing their experiences.

How can you share your thoughts, comments and actions?

We are all part of an incredible learning community. If we work together and share our expertise and evidence – as befits a research-intensive organisation – we can make progress on many of the challenges we face.

So, please enrich this Conversation with your thoughts, comments, experiences, challenges and ideas. Feel free to point us to great readings, and to invite informed guests to contribute. Let’s use this Conversation as a platform for sharing all that best about being a part of a university community, and defining a new future for our education offer.

You can contribute your ideas on any aspect of the topic at any time. You can find the submissions page, here. For advice on writing a blog, see here.

You can also add a comment at the end of any existing post.

How will the Conversation proceed and what will it achieve?

This is your Conversation so its content, shape and quality will be determined by your contributions. You can submit a Blog at any time and on any theme that addresses the overall Conversation topic:

Research-intensive learning, teaching and curriculum at the University of Birmingham: Designing a model fit for the future

1 thought on “Let’s talk about inequalities, inclusion and belonging – by Prof. Kathy Armour, PVC Education”

  1. Learning Environment and Sense of Belonging

    Having a sense of place, is a well-used phrase by people wanting to associate a specific geographic location with a particular learning event. A sense of place can be an important aspect of learning. It helps to establish the learning experience as a key event in a person’s life and becomes a valued memory. This may serve to shape future thinking in a significant way.
    How do we create a sense of belonging that has a positive association for our students? The Green Heart may well engender a greater appreciation of the campus and the association in people’s minds of the University being a valuable place in their own life. Creating dynamic learning experiences within our teaching also has impact because it is a stand out moment. It is different, or unexpected.

    The two quotes below from Birmingham students completing the NSS illustrate the power of these experiences:

    Business School BSc Accounting and Finance
    2017 ‘Given the opportunity to go to Coniston in first year, made friends with peers on my course and improved my confidence.’

    Sport Physical Education and Coaching Science
    2017 ‘Going to the Lake District at the beginning of University really helps settle you into the uni life and develops lots of friendships, which have lasted me the entire course.’

    The Raymond Priestley Centre, next to Coniston Water in the Lake District, is the University’s outdoor learning centre. It is located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the spectacular surroundings do assist with the creation of a sense of place for students. It creates distinctive memories through a distinctive learning environment. ‘Do you remember when we were at .……?’ A collective, inclusive experience can create a unique connection between people, forging a sense of belonging together.

    Although the geography and environment have a part to play, a crucial component to developing a sense of belonging is relationships. It is the effort Centre staff make to show the students they are important and valued, by taking time to get to know them and include them, which helps students feel they belong on their course with their peers. Wherever possible we try to form working groups where the students do not know each other at the outset. This encourages new relationships to form and enables students to work alongside members of their course that in some cases they have never even spoken to before.

    It is likely that students now have less face-to-face interaction with their friends and more screen time interactions. This may well influence their sense of belonging, as arguably they could be anywhere in the world. Notably this makes any face-to-face conversations we have with our students even more purposeful in regards to developing a sense of belonging.

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