There is a need within the UK higher education (HE) sector for a more in-depth and sustainable approach to equality and diversity. Concerns with ‘lad culture’ and student-on-student sexual violence, first highlighted by NUS, have provoked both policy and media debates. High-profile cases of sexual harassment by university staff have also recently received media attention. The issue of bullying and harassment more generally has been discussed, as has the shortage of academics from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and the persistent under-representation of students from less privileged socioeconomic situations. The fact that these problems persist despite a number of recent initiatives designed to tackle them (including widening participation programmes and charter mark schemes such as Athena SWAN) suggests that there are cultural issues which are not being addressed. However, the recent report of the Universities UK-led taskforce on violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students made much of creating cultural change but contained little information on how to actually achieve it.
The Changing University Cultures (CHUCL) project provides evidence-based tools to help university staff and managers work towards cultural change to promote equality and diversity. Developed through research at Imperial College, our capacity-building framework SHAPE acts as an antidote to the neoliberal values which currently dominate the sector and put the civic mission of the university second to market concerns. Our innovative Grounded Action Inquiry methodology takes established Action Inquiry approaches and grounds these in data about institutional culture to encourage deep thinking for sustainable and substantive change. These tools can be used at departmental, faculty, unit or school levels, as well as taking a whole-institution approach. We hope to create a cohort of ‘change agents’ across the HE sector who are working in meaningful and sustainable ways to develop cultural change. CHUCL consists of Liz McDonnell, Senior Research Fellow in Sociology at Sussex University, Jess Taylor, an independent consultant in organisational development, and Alison Phipps, Reader in Sociology at Sussex University.