SunGen Symposium 17th April, 2015
We held our second Developing an Aspirational Culture symposium at Sunderland on Friday 17th April. At the end of this event, we came up with a few suggestions for how there can be relatively minor tweeks to current university practices that would greatly help increase a culture of aspiration.
Employability strategies and actions, as directed towards students, are gender blind and as such often fail to recognise the specific issues relating to the aspirational cultural needs of many female students and the reality of subsequent organisational life and employment. We would recommend that gender is put back on the agenda, for all students and staff, through specific gender awareness strategies being promoted by the university. There is a need for aspirational cultural goals to be set that pay attention to gender issues. In addition, there is a a need to engage with the national impetus to tackle issues relating to ‘lad culture’ in universities, as explored by the National Union of Students in particular.
This can be related to wider issues involving staff aspiration. Athena SWAN will soon be expanding across Humanities and Social Sciences and as such should be on the agenda for staff development now. There is a need to tackle unconscious bias in the training of team leaders, eg for action through the staff appraisal scheme. This could also be linked to a university-wide mentoring scheme for female staff. In light of the 2010 Equality Act, there is also a need for every faculty to have an Equality and Diversity Committee. Awareness of gender and diversity issues could be raised by making ‘equality and diversity’ a standing item on all team meeting agenda, which could help increase awareness of issues that have begun to be recorded in module monitoring reports with limited success.
In order to further enhance our aspirational culture, we suggest that the staff profiles include personal biographies that could help students see that not everyone has progressed through the educational system to their current role without actually ever experiencing life in the ‘outside world’. At the moment, our staff profiles tend to focus on research, but by adding personal details we could provide prospective and current students with the chance to see that non-traditional routes into higher education are not such a huge barrier to achievement.