Some of you may be aware that all academic schools within the University are currently undergoing a curriculum design review, a three year process that will see significant change in both curriculum content and assessment formats to create “positive change”. When I came into my role, I quickly became focused on the importance of Universities developing representative and inclusive curriculums to improve student experience and simultaneously improve student attainment.
One of the most common problems relating to gaps in the curriculum in higher education is the lack of representation of black and minority ethnic groups. This is commonly referred to as colonisation of the curriculum- for an example, where history students may learn about the role of Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, they won’t be taught about the equally as important work of Mary Seacole. A National Union of Students (NUS) survey in 2016 found that 42% of black students believe there curriculum did not reflect issues of diversity, equality and discrimination. These negative student perceptions of the curriculum may be linked to the attainment gap between students at the University, that means white students are 22% more likely to achieve a 2:1 or 1st classified degree than their black and ethnic minority counterparts. This is of course a shocking, horrifying and sad statistic that I hope to help make moves to close during my time in my role.
The event begun by a panel of University staff (including me!), academic staff and external speakers discussing and providing different insights into the challenges of being a black student and providing the context of decolonisation. I was asked to provide specific stories of black students at the University to give all the statistics and technical language some real life context. The panel talk was followed by two working groups that focused firstly on rethinking disciplinary structures and also implementing curriculum change locally. I worked in the second group and within a large team of lecturers, senior academics and other staff we were able to discuss, debate and refine some ideas of interventions to make both short and long term to begin to decolonise the curriculum. For example, in schools where there are no black academics there should be a conceited effort for recruitment of these ethnicity groups and external speakers should be invited so every student has the chance to see themselves in their curriculum. Another suggestion was that reading lists should be reviewed in all schools to ensure they are representative and inclusive for our whole student population.
This event was the first of its kind and I was honoured to be able to provide a student perspective to an audience of influential people within the University. In the New Year, work will continue focusing on decolonising the curriculum at the University of Brighton and how to close the attainment gap in years to come.
If you have any suggestions about how to improve the curriculum within your school, please use the online form under the tab “Get Involved”.