An interview with the head of Arden's EDI committee

As part of Arden’s commitment to ensuring Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion are at the heart of everything we do, last year, Arden University established its first EDI committee – with the aim of uniting students, staff, and key stakeholders to ensure students felt they were as represented as possible throughout their courses and all other aspects of their learning journey with us. 

Headed up by Professor Dilshad Sheikh, Dean of the Faculty of Business, the committee has made great strides already, so we caught up with her to find out a bit more about its progress. 

What is Arden's EDI committee and what does it do?

Arden's equality, diversity, and inclusion committee is formed by 18 members from diverse backgrounds themselves, including five students. The purpose of the committee is to ensure that Arden students coming from a widening participation background are not disadvantaged. My initial brief from the exec was to look at whether our curriculum was inclusive, diverse, and offered students an equal opportunity to succeed. 

So, I put the committee together back in September 2021, and I'm pleased to say we've actually now agreed an Arden Excellence Framework for an Inclusive Curriculum. So that's been through lots of consultation with employers and consultation with students. 

We decided to take an approach with students as partners, so, taking on board their feedback and amending the framework. That framework looks at things like teaching and learning. So, are you using guest speakers that come from widening participation backgrounds? Are you using case studies that are not just white-orientated? 

It also looks at assessment. One of the big things that we're requesting everybody does across Arden is to use authentic assessments. So rather than using paper-based assessment, which gets outdated, we’re looking to use live clients, so certainly I can vouch for my faculty, I've now eradicated all paper based case studies as assessment, we might still use McDonald's to understand the four P's, for example, but when it comes to the actual grading and assessment that the student will engage in, they're all live clients. For me, it's really important that we use diverse and inclusive assessments - that's just from a gender and ethnic minority perspective, but what the group have also done is help make sure we’re including LGBTQ+ inclusivity and that we look at disabilities – so neurodiversity is on the framework.

With student members and participation being a large part of this, is there anything that’s been brought up which surprised you?

Not really, but I think it has surprised some of the exec. In a meeting one student said that the curriculum at Arden was too white. What they were saying is that “I'm studying psychology, but all the case studies are white. The authors are white, the guest speakers are white, where am I represented in my own learning?” 

They also mentioned the authentic case studies, they said the case studies we get given are out of date.

So that business problem has gone and it's been resolved by technology and bringing in authentic assessments where they’re real life examples. You bring in an entrepreneur, they tell you what the problem is, and we get to work on on it. What we then did is when we created the framework, I got those reps to have focus groups with a wider student body and they all welcomed the framework. Those ideas come to the fore when we're talking about assessment, guest speakers, and reading lists. They said “The reading list is just white, I know authors who are Pakistani, Chinese, Malaysian, etc., that have written really good books on strategy. So, the Library Services team is now looking at that and making sure the reading list is diverse.

What would you say some of the biggest successes have been so far?

I think the biggest success for me is creating a committee from scratch and actually getting things going because, before, it felt like things were going around in circles a bit. But I think the fact that we got the committee together and how it works is a success. It's my favourite committee, because everybody contributes, everybody's so engaging, the students turn up and really contribute. 

I think the biggest achievement is the excellence framework – it took forever, because you have to go around the houses. That's a big win, and it's the collaboration of 18 people and so many students, and it is now being marketed and promoted as Arden’s Excellence Framework for an Inclusive Curriculum. 

Why is it so important to have a committee such as this one?

Firstly, it's because 87% (maybe more now) of our student body come from widening participation backgrounds. So as an institution, it's our responsibility and our duty, to make sure we're aligning the teaching, learning, and assessments to their needs, be these special educational needs, disability needs, gender needs, LGBT needs, you know, someone's more likely to perform if they are presented with a case study that resonates with them. 

We're all about enhancing the student experience and for me, that involves making sure that all students are treated equitably. And we've got equality, and we've got diversity, and inclusivity. Because that's what our student body reflects in the main.

Taking the lessons from the committee, what can other Higher Education institutions do more of to improve embedding EDI for themselves?

I think the number one priority is that you have to work with students as partners. Because without students on that committee, without the focus groups, we would just get it wrong. 

I think, what other universities can learn from this, and us delivering this framework, is the collaborative aspect. You have to involve students. And you have to involve everybody from the university. It would have been very easy for me to condense this to my faculty alone, and just have an EDI committee for the Faculty of Business. But we stretched it out to everyone. Now when I say everyone, I don't just mean the other faculties. There are people from student experience, admissions, from international, from marketing, there are administrators on it too, because I truly believe it's not about the academic side alone. Every touchpoint the student comes across needs to be inclusive and diverse.

So, if someone can't speak 100%, English, when they ring up, is there someone that they can speak to in their own language? I've been to other universities, and I've set up a committee myself, but it was predominantly academics.

So we learned from that. At Arden we have a totally representative committee where all the key departments have a rep involved.