NW 22: The role of diversity in bringing about organizational transformation of higher education institutions

NW 22 Research in Higher Education

The role of diversity in bringing about organizational transformation of higher education institutions

Organizational transformation is a slow process in higher education, hence knowing how to begin making changes using diversity measures is of considerable importance. Diversity is now a commonly encountered concept in European universities. It is often linked to concepts of equality and inclusion (EDI) in relation to university students, staff and other stakeholders. It is also becoming more usual to have Vice-Rectors responsible for inequality.  Diversity strategies, policies and practices (whether planned or serendipitous) can help higher education institutions in Europe reinvent and transform those organizations, thereby reducing their reliance on neoliberalism and managerialism.

The Call
Diversity as a concept associated with reducing inequality and transforming organisations has its origins in responses (including from universities) to feminist and anti-racist social movements dating from the 1970s onwards, particularly but not exclusively in the USA. Some authors regard education as having gradually lost its focus on collective equality and moved to more individualistic forms of diversity (Blackmore, 2006). However, in over fifty years of equality activity in HE since the 1970s, ranging from massification of access onto bachelors’ degrees, to action on discrimination against students and staff from disadvantaged groups, including disability, more recently attention has been paid to implementing diversity and inclusion at organisational level (Deem et al., 2022). Diversity is a rather slippery concept in HE.  It can involve simply introducing diverse groups of people into degree programmes, or academic and professional service jobs, without providing any support to those from minorities and disadvantaged groups and then seeing them fail.  An example is recruiting non-traditional students with lower exam grades than usually acceptable but then failing to put in place measures to enable good degree outcomes (Boliver et al., 2017). Transformation itself is also not something which can be done quickly, even with the best of intentions (Dee, 2022).  New dimensions of diversity have been developed that are closely linked to inclusion practices and initiatives for both staff and students and Universal Design features in university programmes (Leišytė et al., 2021). Diversity is also increasingly associated with decolonisation of the curriculum, following violent student protests in countries like South Africa (Jansen, 2019 ), and with questioning of the change potential promoted in special programmes for newly appointed black academics (Belluigi & Thondhlana, 2019 ). It is also important that university staff acquire wider concepts of what inclusivity means beyond something put in place for students with disabilities (Mora et al., 2021 ). Meanwhile, books providing inspiration and toolkits for making diversity work in higher education are also becoming more common (Day et al., 2022; Gabriel, 2020 ; Gabriel & Tate, 2017). At the same time, transformation is continually challenged by the existence of regimes of managerialism (Grummell & Lynch, 2016) and neo-liberalism (Neumann, 2020) and by cultures of precarity (Courtois & O'Keefe, 2015). 

The call for papers could encompass a wide range of diversity and transformation papers, including:

  • Studies of how student diversity at any level (Bachelor, Masters or Doctoral) has been supported to enhance progression and degree outcomes. Such studies could focus on a single institution, or compare two or more HEIs
  • Explorations of how institutions have made decolonisation of the curriculum a genuine contribution to the transformation and diversity of the knowledge base drawn upon in university teaching.
  • Analyses of the ways that diversity, inclusion and transformation are in tension with neoliberalism and managerialism and how such tensions can be resolved.
  • Research about academic staff from disadvantaged backgrounds and especially what changes could be put in place in order to reduce precarity, thereby transforming career trajectories and working conditions of early career academics.

Contact Person(s)

Belluigi, D. Z., & Thondhlana, G. (2019 ). ‘Why mouth all the pieties?’ Black and women academics’ revelations about discourses of ‘transformation’ at an historically white South African university. Higher  Education, 78, 947–963. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1007/s10734-019-00380-w

Blackmore, J. (2006). Deconstructing Diversity Discourses in the Field of Educational Management and Leadership. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 34(2), 181-199. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143206062492

Boliver, V., Gorard, S., & Siddiqui, N. (2017). How can we widen participation in higher education?  The  promise of contextualized admissions’. In H. Eggins & R. Deem (Eds.), The University as a Critical University Sense Publishers.

Courtois, A., & O'Keefe, T. (2015). Precarity in the ivory cage: Neoliberalism and casualisation of work in the Irish higher education sector. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 13(1), 43-56.

Day, A., Lee, L., Thomas, D., & Spickard, J. (Eds.). (2022). Diversity, Inclusion, and Decolonisation: Practical Tools for Improving Teaching, Research and Scholarship. Bristol University Press

Dee, J. R. (2022). Transformation of organisations Higher Education Research and Science Studies Summer School Zentrum fur HochschulBildung, Dortmund, Gemany 

Deem, R., Case, J. M., & Nokkala, T. (2022). Researching inequality in higher education: tracing changing conceptions and approaches over fifty years. Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-022-00922-9

Gabriel, D. (Ed.). (2020 ). Transforming the Ivory Tower: Models for gender equality and social justice . UCL Institute of Education Press.

Gabriel, D., & Tate, S. A. (Eds.). (2017). Inside the Ivory Tower:  Narratives of Women of Colour Surviving and Thriving in British Academia. Trentham Books/ UCL IOE Press.

Grummell, B., & Lynch, K. (2016). New Managerialism: A Political Project in Irish Education. In M. P. Murphy & F. Dukelow (Eds.), The Irish Welfare State in the Twenty-First Century (pp. 215-235). Palgrave Macmillan.

Jansen, J. (Ed.). (2019 ). Decolonisation in Universities: The politics of knowledge. Wits University Press https://doi.org/10.18772/22019083351.

Leišytė, L., Deem, R., & Tzanakou, C. (2021). Inclusive Universities in a Globalized World Social Inclusion, 9(3). www.cogitatiopress.com/socialinclusion/issue/view/231

Mora, A. M. M., Chiva, I., & Lloret‐Catala, C. (2021 106). Faculty Perception of Inclusion in the University: Concept, Policies and Educational Practices. Social Inclusion, 9(3), 106-116 https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v9i3.4114

Neumann, R. (2020). Leadership and Institutional Change in Doctoral Education in a Neoliberal Policy Context. In S. Cardoso, O. Tavares, C. Sin, & T. Carvalho (Eds.), Structural and Institutional Transformations in Doctoral Education: Social, Political and Student Expectations (pp. 203-237). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-38046-5_8

NW 22 runs a mailing list and invites researchers to join. To join the mailing list, send a blank message to nw22-subscribe(at)lists.eera-ecer.de

Interview with Link Convenor 2019