Walking the walk or just talking the talk? Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion for PGRs

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) is a very current concern in Higher Education. Universities are inherently diverse communities, which have grown massively in recent decades, but under-representation and issues around protected characteristics persist. Relatively understood at Undergraduate level, the understanding of these issues at PGR level still has a long way to go.

By Pierre Botcherby

Recently at the Doctoral College, we led an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) project on behalf of the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Programme (MIBTP), a multi-partner Doctoral Training Programme based partly at Warwick. Although limited by the project’s short timeframe, it was still an interesting opportunity to look at some of the work already being done around EDI at the university, for instance by other Doctoral Training Programmes (the MRC programme’s work on Widening Participation (WP), particularly) or grassroots initiatives like Ambassadors for Better Research Culture. It also provided a model for future EDI investigations and ideas for EDI provision at Warwick and partner institutions across the Midlands.

A high-ceilings room with people milling around some tables in the bottom half of the image.
Warwick’s Doctoral College can be found at University House. Image Credit: University of Warwick.

My work on another project – the Community Values Education Programme’s ‘Active Bystanders in the Teaching Space’ project – has also allowed me to see the range of groups working on questions of EDI at Warwick, whether the central Social Inclusion team, ‘EDI champions’, ‘taskforces’ linked to gender, race, sexuality, and disability, or learning circles about anti-racist pedagogy and neurodiversity.

There’s possibly many more people or groups working to improve matters of EDI that I haven’t encountered in either project. In fact, two of the most eye-opening elements of these projects for me have been the sheer range of people with an interest in EDI but also, unfortunately, the fact that so often they seem to be working in isolation or, at least, not entirely in tandem.

A lack of coordination or synchronicity isn’t just a Warwick thing, though: for the MIBTP project, all partner institutions had people working on EDI but often having to individually reinvent the wheel rather than pooling their resources; a desire for a Midlands-wide EDI network was expressed by stakeholders across several of the institutions involved. At times, it feels like neither research councils (like the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) which funded the MIBTP project) nor universities themselves know quite what they need or want in terms of EDI: each is waiting for the other to provide a framework for finding information out and then acting upon it, resulting in stalemate.

Groups already under-represented at Undergraduate and Master’s level are even more so amongst PGRs, a leaky pipeline which keeps leaking the higher you climb on the academic ladder.

Matters are complicated further at PGR level. Groups already under-represented at Undergraduate and Master’s level are even more so amongst PGRs, a leaky pipeline which keeps leaking the higher you climb on the academic ladder. It seems that students from underrepresented backgrounds lack awareness of the possibilities at PGR level around things like funding; many have already left – or made the decision to leave – academia before the information reaches them. Criteria applied to undergraduates around things like WP, often based on things like (parental) household income, are harder to apply to incoming PGRs who may already be living independently.

Five human hands with different skin tones resting on a brown wooden table.
Image Credit: Clay Banks.

There’s not one single solution but it seems clear that proper provision of people, time, and funding is paramount. Lots of the people I met work on EDI in their spare time, of their own goodwill, or more likely because an issue (or issues) affects them directly; as I’ve heard it said, ‘good people in a bad system’. It’s also important to just try things: our EDI project probably wasn’t perfect, but it centred its attention on a group within academia – PGRs – about whom we know we don’t know enough in terms of EDI, and it gave at least some of them a chance to be heard. It also did a lot of groundwork which means future projects don’t need to start from scratch; it’s easier to improve on something imperfect than on nothing. These small steps then need to be combined and coordinated, in the hope of making bigger strides in the future. Academia does a lot of talking the talk – and EDI is no exception – so it’s time for it to start walking the walk, too.

Do you have any experiences that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, tweet us @researchex or email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk

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