Decolonizingthe curriculum

Education | 5 Nov 2019

While one of the principal motivating factors behind studying overseas is the desire to experience other cultures, there is a distinction between being immersed in a culture and being drowned by it.

There is a growing body of evidence that indicates feeling invisible in a higher education environment results in profound attainment gaps.

A joint National Union of Students/Universities UK report from May aimed at closing the attainment gap between white and black, Asian and minority ethnic students, indicated that only 13 percent of BAME students will be awarded a first or 2:I class of degree.

While an increasing number of BAME students are being admitted to undergrad courses (a 15.7 percent rise from 2013 to 2017), something is clearly going wrong after these students embark on their studies.

The significance of the issue cannot be overstated, as the attainment gap has longstandingramifications in the workplace. Data from the UK's Resolution Foundation indicated that recently graduated black men earn starting salaries that are 17 percent lower than their white male counterparts.

Part of the issue is a lack of representation. Of the 19,000 people employed as professors in the UK, only 400 were BAME women.

Among the most significant factors the report lists, 87 percent of respondents felt the BAME attainment gap was fostered, in part, by a lack of higher education role models representing all ethnic groups.

A total of 82 percent of responses indicated that failings in curriculum diversity were to blame.

While there has been a significant recent shift toward the decolonization of curricula in institutions using English as a medium of instruction, a 2011 NUS survey found that 42 percent of BAME students felt that their curriculum did not reflect issues of diversity, inequality and discrimination.

While many arts subjects are doing good work in this area, the majority of subjects have a long way to go. The excuses offered for delaying the implementation of a more diverse curriculum are myriad.

Yes, ordering books for libraries and rewriting reading lists takes time, but it's imperative work.

Students who are not represented in the scholarship they encounter are bound to feel unseen and unheard in a place that is not designed for them.

Others argue that their subject cannot be decolonized or diversified, or that they do not know how to go about the process.

Yet one of the many joys of working in a university is that if you don't know how to do something, there's usually someone nearby who does.

Reaching out to BAME experts via e-mail is always an option, particularly as many people can be assumed to be allies in this endeavor.

Diverse reading lists reflect today's diverse student body, and our wider world. Universities should be home to the most profound voices, regardless of where those voices originate.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us:

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