What Is Inclusion in Higher Education?

Inclusion can mean many things to different people. In higher education (HE), inclusion is the ongoing and transformative process of improving education systems to meet everyone’s needs, especially those in marginalised groups. 

Let’s explore what this means in a HE environment along with how you can promote and implement it within your institution.

What Does Inclusion Mean Within Higher Education?

There are two definitions of ‘inclusion’ in the Oxford English Dictionary. The first definition describes it as:

'The action or an act of including something or someone (in various senses of include v.); the fact or condition of being included, an instance of this.'

This makes sense as a general definition, but the second one applies better within the HE environment:

'The action, practice, or policy of including any person in an activity, system, organisation or process, irrespective of race, gender, religion, age, ability, etc.' 

While inclusion can be defined in both narrow and broad terms, it’s about reaching out to all types of learners and meeting their specific needs. A narrow definition would potentially focus on the inclusion of a specific group of people, whereas a broad view of the practice would look at inclusivity as a whole within an institution.

It’s worthwhile to compartmentalise these two definitions at times when a focus on more marginalised groups is needed. 

Creating an inclusive education system involves not only creating the conditions for inclusivity (be it through curriculum, architecture, accessibility etc.) but also by actively challenging the reproduction of inequality. It’s a way of working to a more open, fairer education landscape and also towards social justice for historically disadvantaged students.

There's been an increasing focus on inclusion within HE, influenced by increased globalisation and the increased connectivity and interdependence between cultures, ideas and economies. The democratisation of HE is also driving it.

For example, in the UK, there's been constant campaigning to increase the equality-equity divide between student groups. If you look at the attainment rates in UK universities, there’s a 23.4% gap between white and black students.

Along with these issues, there’s been the emergence of lifelong learning being seen as a human right within the last 50 years.

How to Promote Inclusion 

Before we explore how to promote inclusion within HE institutions, we should look into the different barriers that can halt growing inclusivity. In general, these are the same barriers that will stop the progression of any key changes within an institution.

Education professionals need to look out for the following:

  • Lack of leadership.
  • Insufficient resources.
  • Poor planning.
  • Lack of engagement across a university.
  • A non-balanced approach to priorities.
  • Viewing inclusion as a simple ‘quick fix’ rather than a sustained, ongoing practice of analysing and engaging with issues.
  • Lack of staff support, either in terms of staff not promoting inclusion or faculty not getting the support they need from management.

Alongside the interpretive definition of inclusion, the methods you can use to attain and promote it are diverse. Some are general and some are specific. Mostly, it depends on the group you’re improving inclusivity for and the environment you’re working in. 

Driving change can be difficult. While many teachers, lecturers and education professionals of all levels will be working towards inclusion in higher education, there are simple changes universities can make.

The following implementations can provide significant inclusion benefits to students:

  • Regard all students as learning partners, taking their experiences and feedback into account.
  • Provide an accessible-to-all online learning platform that houses all course-relevant teaching materials.
  • Maintain accessibility within those materials, ensuring font sizes are large enough, sub-headings denote sections and plain English is used for the majority of copy.
  • Ensure reading lists are created from a wide variety of demographic backgrounds.
  • Record lectures and seminars, making them of use to students at a later date.
  • Create a diverse number of learning opportunities as well as methods of assessment.

Universities also need to embed inclusion within non-curriculum related practices, such as student recruitment, promotion and marketing and performance development. Not only that, but inclusivity should also be represented within staff members as well, becoming an integral part of the hiring process.

To understand what inclusion looks like, here’s an example of the ideology in practice.

An Example of Inclusion in Higher Education

Kingston University in London is currently championing inclusivity within its curriculum and further practices. They run an award-winning Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit which has helped to produce an inclusive curriculum framework.

This framework is made up of the following key tenets:

  • Making sure students are fully equipped to work in a global and diverse world.
  • Reflecting the needs of the students within the curriculum.
  • Ensuring all curricula are accessible to every student, regardless of learning style or background.

This isn't the only implementation they have in place. Currently, they’re working towards BME attainment KPIs to tackle the attainment gap mentioned previously. Similarly, they run a statutory gender pay gap reporting program as well as the Athena SWAN Bronze Award, which works towards advancing women's academic careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) industries.

We realise at this moment in time, promoting inclusivity in HE may be more financially difficult with the dual challenges of COVID-19 and Brexit. However, with the right knowledge of these two separate issues, staff and education professionals will be able to continue promoting inclusion. 

To learn more about how COVID-19 and Brexit are affecting the state of higher education in the UK, download our guide which explores the topic in more depth.

The State of Higher Education: Post-Lockdown and Post-Brexit

Our informative guide will help you get to grips with the changing nature of education in the UK, as influenced by the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainties surrounding Brexit. It covers the current state of education, immediate changes being faced, the implications of the Brexit vote and how risk can be mitigated.

Also, you’ll discover useful data and advice regarding supporting universities post lockdown.

Simply click the button below to access your copy.

Guide on the State of Higher Ed