Using Stentiford and Koutsouris’ recent paper on inclusive pedagogies as a jumping-off point, Akile Ahmet explains how the term `inclusive’ is understood and enacted in UK higher education
In the last 20 years there has been a focus on ‘inclusion’ in higher education policy. Across UK university websites, in strategic priorities and key performance indicators (KPIs), it is difficult to escape the attention paid to inclusion and diversity and the impact it has on Black and ethnic minority staff in higher education. The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on pre-existing inequalities and for some higher education institutions, the pivot to online learning has exacerbated the situation.
In this blog post, I will consider a recent systematic scoping review by Stentiford and Koutsouris in the Journal of Studies in Higher Education entitled ‘What are inclusive pedagogies in higher education? A systematic review.’ This timely piece considers 31 papers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and USA between the period 2002 and 2018 that focus on research and reviews on and around inclusive pedagogy. In their discussion of inclusion, the authors aver, “Inclusion as a principle has become embedded in educational policy in many countries following landmark legislative documents concerning human rights. Within the sphere of higher education, inclusion has tended to be conceptualised in broader terms, as pertaining to equity and social justice for all groups.” I wish to argue that inclusive education should in fact be the norm – all students should be taught in a way that enables and channels their excellence. This is not the case across UK higher education. In this blog post I seek to consider how inclusive pedagogies have been understood through the review provided by Stentiford and Koutsouris and how that fits within a broader consideration of inclusive pedagogy through diversity.
I begin with diversity, as diversity is often paired with inclusion. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), there has been an increase in the number of British Black and minority ethnic undergraduate students. In 2016-2017, 130,020 students identified as Black British; in 2018-19 this went up 5.2% to 137,185.
British or Home students by race in 2018-19
However, studies show that Black and minority ethnic students are still underrepresented in research-rich universities at less than 4% compared with the UK average of 8%. Black and minority ethnic students are often concentrated in teaching-intensive institutions, namely London Metropolitan, where 63% identified as Black and minority ethnic; University of East London, 60%; and West London University, 60%. The concentration of ‘diverse’ students in certain universities has huge consequences on their experiences and their outcomes. In a recent piece in the Guardian, Clive James Nwonka argues that it is often the non-elite institutions who take inclusive pedagogy seriously. The change in demographics of the student body in higher education has resulted in institutional spaces, timings, and pedagogies falling short. The strife for excellence needs to extend to teaching and the practice of teaching.
Translating diversity into teaching
Diversity in Stentiford and Koutsouris’ paper is focussed on points of difference. The authors identify three forms of differences/diversity in the papers they reviewed:
- Student differences/diversities from ethnic differences and disability
- Disabled students only
- General ‘student diversity’
This is a problematic approach to inclusive pedagogy as it is framed around differences. Student diversity tends to refer to groups of non-traditional students such as widening participation, black and minority ethnic students, students who identify as having a disability, and students with low socio-economic status. However, students do not have one-dimensional identities and often are intersectional. Susanne Gibson maintains, “Inclusion becomes about attempts to induct that which is `different’ into already established forms and dominant institutional cultures.” Therefore, what tends to happen is that pedagogic change and innovation caters for student diversity rather than best practice for all students. For example, making lecture slides available to all students at least 24 hours before a lecture benefits all students, not just students with inclusion plans; engaging with scholars outside the US and Europe benefits all students, not just those in favour of a decolonised curriculum. Inclusion and inclusive teaching should not be tacked onto equality and diversity policy, but should mark the beginning of dismantling dominant structures within higher education – a dominant institutional culture embedded in whiteness, able bodies, and heteronormativity.
Inclusion and inclusive teaching should not be tacked onto equality and diversity policy, but should mark the beginning of dismantling dominant structures within higher education
Approaching inclusive pedagogy through diversity
Following a useful thematic analysis of the 31 papers reviewed, the authors, Stentiford and Koutsouris, divide inclusion into the following themes:
- Inclusion as “appreciating difference”
- Inclusion as “making differences invisible”
- Inclusion as “making difference invisible and/or appreciating differences”
- Inclusion as a “way of addressing the needs of diverse students”
- Inclusion as “social justice”
- Inclusion as “the democratisation of knowledge”
The most common approach found by Stentiford and Koutsouris was inclusion as a way of addressing the needs of diverse students, which tended to be a more procedural way of approaching inclusive. Although important, this does not address the legal duty of all higher education providers, who, under the Equality Act, have a responsibility towards students in receipt of Disabled Student Allowance – to provide individual reasonable adjustments and inclusive learning environments. For example, providing students with good scribing and lecture captioning is essential, but the ‘diverse student body’ are often struggling against a system which seeks to exclude them from the outset.
To be included?
bell hooks wrote her influential book ‘Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom’ in 1995 before the current market driver of inclusive education in higher education was on the agenda. hooks (1994:13) contends, “To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students.” Stentiford and Koutsouris highlight that traditionally teaching in higher education has taken a very specific approach – one-directional teaching where the lecturer is the authority transmitter of information. Newer approaches to teaching in the UK now favour facilitation of learning and knowledge production. Before any conversations on decolonising curricula and practice can even begin, I urge all universities to seek to understand inclusive pedagogy within their own walls and to understand the needs and demands of all their students.
This post is opinion-based and does not reflect the views of the London School of Economics and Political Science or any of its constituent departments and divisions.