EDI: another casualty of Covid-19?

Pete Quinn

Lead Consultant | AUA Consulting

Pete’s focus is on equality, diversity and inclusion challenges including mental health and wellbeing, talent diversity and inclusive teaching, learning and assessment. Pete has worked on these areas in the UK, Europe, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Whether via Anti Racism, #MeToo, Diversfying the Curriculum, LGBTQ+, Anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia (to name a few) it should now be clear that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) matters are critical imperatives for organisations to address; not something to engage with now and again or as an afterthought.

This is also the case in relation to Covid-19 responses where EDI led approaches are critical. The disproportionate impact on black communities from Covid-19 continues to be well documented. Less coverage has been given to the removal of rights and lack of thought around disabled people. Whether this be a failure to provide British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters for the government briefings (until June), providing important information on inaccessible websites or in inaccessible formats and then giving disabled people with personal care support only two days to digest guidance and take advantage of the government’s COVID-19 job scheme for their personal assistants. More broadly the impact of lack of access to mental health support in the community (which was already problematic) has worsened impacting students and employees and emerging evidence suggests women are being disproportionately affected by Covid related impacts.

As can be seen by looking at the Retail Sector or at Local Government, taking a solely “health and safety” approach, rather than a collaborative and inclusive one,  risks excluding and removing people’s opportunity and ability to access and engage with services. Several supermarkets now face legal action on lack of accessible online or in person services whilst councils are facing legal action and experiencing reputational damage by removing city centre blue badge spaces unilaterally with no consultation. 

Do your social distancing measures include removing blue badge parking or parent or short stay spaces near to your entrances? Have you procured masks for in person teaching to enable lip reading? Have you upskilled your teaching teams to ensure accessible resources including captioned video content is always used? Or are accessible approaches an afterthought? 

Whilst acknowledging inclusive approaches may have been made more challenging by furloughed EDI teams it is striking how hitherto incremental approaches were suddenly catalysed by Covid-19.

Universities and Colleges can avoid making or repeating mistakes and proactively prevent students and employees being excluded by and from policies, practice and procedure. Whilst acknowledging inclusive approaches may have been made more challenging by furloughed EDI teams it is striking how hitherto incremental approaches were suddenly catalysed by Covid19. For example, progress on inclusive curriculum, inclusive teaching and inclusive assessment had been slower than anticipated by students and the Government (following DfE Guidance in Jan 2017). However, Covid catalysed online (more) inclusive assessment in many cases. Can Universities and Colleges justify reverting to a seemingly reluctant approach?  

What should Universities and Colleges do to be more inclusive in their Covid responses?

  • Equality Impact Assessments (EqIAs) should be an integral part of Covid recovery planning whether in person or online to look at policy, practice and procedures so adverse impacts can be highlighted and mitigated. EqIA templates, if not used recently, should be updated and revised to enable this.
  • Effective and meaningful engagement and involvement (which differs from ‘consultation’) with students and employees is critical. Co-production (beyond just SUs and Union members) to enable a realistic re-opening of in person activity, online learning and associated engagement and support that includes diverse communities across the University or College. To continue (arguably as the government has done in the face of evidence counter to their own guidance) to press ahead regardless risks drop outs and disengagement at the very least.
  • Sharing examples of inclusive policy, practice and procedure, especially what a good one looks like (WAGOLL) throughout your organisation while being open to review and revise them as part of an evolving process is more important than ever. Loss of trust in institutions is an increasing issue, to make transparent and evidence led decisions is likely to have long lasting benefits.

Being open to engagement, challenge and learning rather than being defensive and fixed could be a novel and welcome element of Covid-19 recovery. 

AUA Consulting is a consulting practice ‘of the sector for the sector’ – our Consultants are practitioners in higher education administration and management with a depth of experience and professional expertise – for clients this means we combine the benefits of an external perspective with sector specific credibility. Any financial surplus derived from AUA Consulting is reinvested to support the AUA’s charitable objectives – connecting and developing HE professionals.  If you’d like to find out how AUA Consulting can help your team explore the issues discussed in this blog, email consulting@aua.ac.uk. Find out more at AUA Consulting.

Pete Quinn

Lead Consultant | AUA Consulting
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