However, much of the discussion in the UK is still centred around exposing discriminatory behaviour, whereas in the US many institutions are now shifting their focus to alternative values such as belonging, dignity and justice which centre the voices and experience of marginalised people.
In 2020, Dr Zainab Khan, Director of London Metropolitan University’s Centre for Equity and Inclusion, highlighted the scale of the work ahead citing the ‘litany of challenges hampering the advancement of race equity in higher education’ in the foreword to the University’s Race Equity Strategic Plan.
Two years down the line, progress is being made at London Met. We’ve placed social justice at the heart of all our decision-making and we’re seeing positive change in some of our key success indicators. Introspection of this kind is vital, but real change will only happen by reaching out and finding partners who share this commitment.
Although the context and challenges can be different in each country, the fight to break down systemic barriers can only be truly successful if institutions of all kinds work together more closely, sharing knowledge and expertise to advance practice and understanding.
We can learn a lot from the science community. International collaboration has long been a feature of scientific research, but it really gained momentum in the 1970s, thanks in part to developments in telecommunications technology. Drawing on the knowledge of others, sharing data, skills and competence has transformed our understanding of the world and helped to develop revolutionary new treatments.
The impact that this type of collaboration can have is perhaps most clearly shown with the science community’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Scientists reacted to a societal issue together and created life-saving vaccines in record time.
Last month, London Met announced a new partnership with the Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU) group. The partnerships take a holistic approach to improving student outcomes across the entire student bodies of both London Met and its partners and come as part of a long-term strategy to invest in student success.
Professional services staff and academic faculty from both sides of the Atlantic will work together to develop interventions to support student success, continuation rates and graduate outcomes through joint action and research projects.
The partnership agreements we’ve signed with HBCUs so far make sense because in each case our values and missions align. For us and our partners, pursuing social justice is truly at the heart of everything we do, not just a strategy aspiration or an add-on.
An international perspective
London Met is proud to be one of the UK’s most inclusive universities. As our international student numbers continue to grow, we can see the value that diversity brings.
“For us and our partners, pursuing social justice is truly at the heart of everything we do”
Indeed, that diversity is vital to everything we do and is key asset in our fight for social justice. Our student partnership agreement commits our whole community to a process of continuous, collective engagement to co-design solutions for the challenges we face. We see our students as equal partners in decision-making at every level of the institution, and value contributions from members of our local community too.
Tackling inequality is a vast, complex and nuanced task. It’s quite right that institutions scrutinise and challenge their own practices, but action in isolation will not break down systemic barriers. That will only happen with collaboration locally, nationally and internationally – universities must look beyond their walls if they want to make a real difference.
About the author: This is a sponsored post by Ben Sawtell, Head of Communications at London Metropolitan University. He has more than 15 years’ experience in communications within the University, health and private sectors.