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Durham takes best practice to AdvanceHE

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Rachel Archbold tells us about a recent AdvanceHE conference and how working with AdvanceHE is supporting progress around race and gender equality at Durham.

Rachel Archbold, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) together with Melanie Earnshaw, EDI Lead for Race and Religion/Belief, attended the recent AdvanceHE conference for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, where the theme was The Shoulders of Giants: Listening, Learning and Improving our Practice.

Rachel Archbold (left) and Mel Earnshaw (right) speaking at the AdvanceHE conference. Durham was invited to share best practice.
Rachel Archbold (left) and Mel Earnshaw (right) speaking at the AdvanceHE conference. Durham was invited to share best practice.

They were joined by two fellow speakers from Durham: Pro-Vice-Chancellor for EDI, Dr Shaid Mahmood, who delivered a key-note speech alongside Laura Curran, Welfare and Liberation Officer from Durham Students’ Union.

Dialogue spoke to Rachel and Melanie to find out more.

What’s the AdvanceHE EDI conference all about?

The Advance HE EDI conference is an opportunity for HE colleagues to share, discuss and learn more about sector-leading EDI practices. This year’s conference theme acknowledged that advancement in thinking and practice often comes from the inspiration, provocation and challenge that encountering the ideas of others provides – giants are those from whom we can learn and springboard our own learning and process.

Why were you asked to present at the conference?

As a recent Race Equality Charter (REC) award holder, we were asked by Advance HE to share our approach, insights and learning on our REC journey, as part of their charter case study presentations. Our work in this area has been recognised as good practice and we are working with other universities to both share and build practice in this space.

How does Durham work with AdvanceHE and what aspect of that did you speak about at the conference?

Durham has a longstanding relationship with Advance HE, being an active member and supporter of Athena SWAN and REC. We liaise with them closely on our charter work, as well as on learning and development initiatives, including the recently concluded Inclusive Leadership Programme. 

Advance HE also provides the opportunity for us to connect and work collaboratively with peers from other universities, and share our EDI approach, practices and various initiatives through their network events and other knowledge-sharing activities. In our conference presentation, for example, we highlighted the fact that our REC approach was informed by the experiences and learning of peers from earlier REC award holders who openly shared their REC advice and tips during past Advance HE events for member institutions.

Dr Shaid Mahmood (left) and Laura Curran (right) at the Advance HE conference.
Dr Shaid Mahmood (left) and Laura Curran (right) at the Advance HE conference.

What themes did Shaid and Laura pick up in their speeches?

Among other things, Laura highlighted the importance of having the right environment where any student can fully engage. Shaid put forward the idea of working on EDI from an “educational ecosystem” lens - for example, by building relationships and working in partnership with our EDI counterparts in Further Education. He also stressed that education plays a huge role in social mobility by providing equity, making the most of our diversity and creating a climate of inclusion.

What did you take away from the conference?

A wide range of topics was covered during the conference – from decolonising the curriculum practices and thoughts on freedom of speech to scaling up disability inclusion at an institutional level. There were definitely a lot of learning and practices shared that we brought back to our team and other DU colleagues working on the EDI space.

At a practical level, one of the sessions that was worth highlighting was Newcastle University's approach to supporting parents with autistic children, including their introduction of a Carers Passport and corresponding policy, which have proven to be impactful so far. Another powerful and thought-provoking session was Stephen Whittle's keynote speech, which covered culture wars as well as Stephen's inspiring journey on advocating for trans rights.

What are Durham’s priorities in working towards AdvanceHE charters over the next two years?

Over the next two years, we will be working on the successful implementation of our institutional REC Action Plan, alongside colleagues from across the University, including our newly established RECAP Delivery Group. We will also be undertaking a mid-process review of our REC Action Plan in 2024 to assess whether our REC actions are still fit for purpose.

We are working towards an Athena Swan Institutional Silver award recognising and identifying activity to promote gender equality, building on our academic departments’ success with 23 awards held across the University.

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