Feature: Decolonising the curriculum at Leeds

Recent years has seen a growing movement to decolonise the curriculum across higher education and beyond. LITE’s Dr Nina Wardleworth‘s project is at the very heart of making the curriculum at Leeds more inclusive, she writes here about her work and the quickly changing landscape.

Decolonising the curriculum initiatives have a long history here at Leeds. Beginning with a student movement led by the then Leeds University Union Education Officer (LUU) Melz and continued since by their successors.

A task and finish group of staff and students met in 2018, under the leadership of Professor Salman Sayyid, and will soon be publishing their report and recommendations.

AUTHOR: Dr Nina Wardleworth.

Overview

My work as Student Success Academic Lead is to develop a series of initiatives to enable colleagues to (re)design their modules and programmes based on inclusive curriculum design principals and to work closely with students to make substantial and lasting changes to learning and teaching.

My work is also informed by university wide initiatives to reduce higher non-continuation rates and degree attainment gaps for BAME, mature, part-time and commuter students and students entering through non-traditional routes.

The need to develop more inclusive curricula was highlighted as one of the central recommendation of the Closing the Gap report, which was published in May jointly by Universities UK and the National Union for Students.

Data on non-continuation and degree attainment has been made available to each faculty to allow them to target their support based on the specific needs of their own student cohort.

Plans

Over the next academic year a series of pilot projects will be run in every faculty across the University, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Module leaders will make changes to their curricula to decolonise reading lists and case studies and to challenge the hidden curricula in higher education by integrating study skills and detailed preparation for field trips and placements into class time.

Student views about their curriculum and the changes made will be gathered through surveys and focus groups.

These pilot projects will then be written up as case studies.

Partnership

Co-creation with students is also central to this work.

As well as working closely with the LUU executive officers, a series of student Diversity Ambassadors, one for each faculty will be recruited in September and trained to promote the student voice in the decolonising process.

They will run drop-in sessions for students to discuss concerns relating their curriculum and take these concerns to staff-student forums and the newly appointed School Academic Leads in Inclusive Practice (SALIPs).

Two Diversity Ambassadors will also work specifically to facilitate a greater uptake of placements – Study Abroad and Year in Industry – for students with protected characteristics, through the organisation of student peer-to-peer briefings.

Such student placements are a central part of the Leeds Curriculum and research has demonstrated that participation in such placements has an important impact on degree attainment and graduate employment.

A series of small grants (around £200-300) are now available to facilitate student led decolonising events and initiatives.

It would be wonderful to have more events like Decolonising Geographies, organised in February 2019 by three finalists Monisha Jackson, Bothaina Tashani and Olivia Andrews.

Context

My work runs alongside the Inclusive Teaching Practice project led by Jenny Brady, which promotes good practice in inclusive learning and teaching methods, in recognition of our diverse student population and the variety of their learning styles and needs.

It is also has links to work being undertaken to develop inclusive assessment policies across the institution.

Training and information events for staff will be run regularly next academic year through LITE, including Share, Adopt, Adapt Workshops, the first of which attracted 45 participants in May, and OD&PL courses.

I am also keen to attend events in schools and faculties to discuss inclusive curriculum design in a subject specific context.

By December 2020, it is envisaged that an Inclusive curriculum design framework – including a toolkit, case studies and baseline standards – will be published for review and implementation over the following 12 months.

More information about the inclusive design projects, initiatives and with links to resources and current scholarship can be found at the Inclusive Curriculum Desgin Minerva organisation.

If you would like to get involved in the pilot projects or to apply for one of the student initiative grants please email me at n.a.wardleworth@leeds.ac.uk.