Recently the External Relations Department at the University in which I work, approached me to write a post for their academic blog: ‘Bridging the Gap’ (which can be found here). The University is promoting the research and outputs of its staff and they had picked up on the recent publication of a book I have co-edited with Graham Steventon and Lynn Clouder from the University of Coventry. The book originated from the work of the Disparities in Student Attainment Project that was delivered by the two universities. Although the book focuses on the attainment of all students in HE, the original project looked at differential degree outcomes from a post-race perspective.
As a result of the original project and the recent press attention on the minority group experience in higher education, my blog focused on degree differentials and how the University in which I work is engaged in eradicate this.
I found writing the blog quite difficult for two reasons. Firstly, as a researcher I am bound by the ethical principle of ‘Do No Harm’. This raised the question of how do you talk about issues that highlight that one group of students have a very different experience of higher education than another,without doing potential harm? If I was to talk on an organisational level, I could be doing harm to the University I work at if I do not also mention that it is working hard to make a difference and has made a substantial impact in this area over the last few years. I could also be doing damage to the group of students who I am working for. How do you discuss a degree awarding gap without potentially generating a learned helplessness amongst these students? In the past I have taken a positive approach to these discussions and focused on what we know can make a difference and therefore provide a road map to success. However, I was writing a blog and only had about 500 words to introduce the topic and highlight its recent prevalence in the press, ethically discuss the situation and then link it all to the book. So, covering all the ethical angles in the space given was difficult. What I wished to also say is that in order to be successful at University all students need to engage in positive learning relationship with their peers and their lecturers. Students need to attend lectures, seminars and tutorials and to engage with the learning materials. Understanding what is required of them is crucial and also how this is very different to their previous educational experiences. In particular understanding what ‘independent learning’ entails is crucial to success. But most importantly students need to ask for help when they don’t understand something. Having productive discussions about these issues with University staff will help students make links at the University and start to feel a sense of belonging.
I also found the blog difficult to write as I am intrigued by the current uproar about the recent election of Malia Bouattia’s as the President of the National Union of Students. In particular I am interested in the debates around the accusations that she has made anti-Semitic comments, her opposition to PREVENT and the accusations that she is a terrorist and how this has led to some Universities threatening to de-unionize. Malia presented via Skype at our last BME Attainment Summit about her campaign to diversify the curriculum. During her presentation it was very evident that she is passionate about equality. Therefore, I read with interest the defence of her election which she published in the press last weekend. This and the debates above have since been commented on via WONKHE by the former Director of Policy at the NUS, Debbie McVitty, who has noted that Malia’s tactics will define her Presidency, stating:
The concern is less Bouattia’s political positions than her potential tactics. NUS has fostered constructive relationships with governments and the higher education sector over the past ten years, to the extent that little happens in higher education policy without NUS’s input.
Part of my interest stems from the fact that the SU at the University in which I work seem to have taken their lead from the National Union and have been an amazing support to me and the work that I have been doing, along with working very closely with the University to support its work to enhance the student experience. I know that I am lucky as some of the other institutions I have collaboratively worked with do not have this sort of relationship with their SU. So I hope our working relationship continues into the future. What I do know is that our SU are committed to encouraging further work in the area of BME student attainment. In fact, I believe that they have invited Malia for further discussions about the curriculum. So I wait to see what further work in the area of student success that comes from this meeting.
Bye for now,