Inclusive Higher Education Framework

Lead authors: Katharine Hubbard and Paula Gawthorpe, University of Hull

Project Team

Amrita Narang, Quality Enhancement and Standards Specialist, Quality Assurance Agency.

We at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education take pride in working with our Members, to come together and collaborate on issues that matter to staff and students alike. Collaborative enhancement projects offer the unique opportunity to bring together expertise and experience from the sector on themes that we know will make a difference and enhance student experience.

The Inclusive Higher Education Framework and Toolkit project is collaboration between University of Hull, University of Derby, Keele University, Staffordshire University and York St John University. Inclusive practice is at the heart of UK’s higher education, and this project aims to empower staff and students to work together in building an inclusive curriculum in its truest sense.

With a plethora of interactive resources, toolkit, and a self-directed online learning resource bank, we hope that colleagues across the sector will find the case studies and practical suggestions helpful and easy to implement in their own institutions. We believe the project will inspire staff and students towards creating a more inclusive and enjoyable higher education experience.

Professor Becky Huxley-Binns, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), University of Hull

Inclusivity is essential in modern Higher Education. All students should have an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of their background, demographic characteristics or current circumstances. However, lack of understanding of the breadth and depth of inclusivity ‘on the ground’ often lags behind the aspiration to be truly inclusive. Institutions often struggle to define inclusive education, and lack guidance and resources to effectively embed inclusive practice throughout a university.

This new version of the framework is the result of a cross-institutional project led by the University of Hull to create a framework appropriate for use across the sector. 7 higher education institutions have contributed, resulting in a framework I think will be a powerful tool for helping individuals, institutions and the sector to understand what inclusive education means in practice.

The framework and toolkit provide practical suggestions for academics, professional services and university leaders to become more inclusive. It aims to empower staff to actively embrace inclusive practice. I am delighted that this rigorous framework has been developed to spread our vision of a truly inclusive university and I am excited about its potential for driving sector leading change.

I am delighted to introduce this Inclusive Higher Education Framework to support colleagues in becoming genuinely inclusive for all. The framework originated here at the University of Hull to help us realise our ambition of a truly inclusive education for all, as established in our education strategy. The framework transformed our understanding of inclusive practice, and the accompanying resources have helped staff across the institution reflect on and change their practice.

Development of the Framework

Development of an Institution Level Framework

The Framework started as a project at the University of Hull to develop institutional understanding of the depth and breadth of inclusive practice.

The first iterations of the framework were based on the academic literature and relevant sector level reports into inclusive practice and awarding gaps. The framework is ultimately rooted in the work of Mountford-Zimdars et al (2015) in the ‘Causes of differences in student outcomes’ project. This report identified four explanatory factors in differential student outcomes; Curricula and learning, Relationships between staff and students, Social, cultural and economic capital and Psychosocial and identity factors. The framework builds upon these themes, but adapts them to allow a focus on effective inclusive practice.

To create an institution wide Inclusive Education Framework, we then incorporated themes from the wider literature and our experiences of driving more inclusive practice. We added an additional theme of ‘Structures and Processes’ to recognise the role that the institution has in ensuring inclusion is embedded into the routine working of the university, and adapted the remaining themes based on the literature and iterative consultation with academic staff, professional services staff, students and the student union. We also identified a series of key ‘principles’ or ‘ways of working’ that underpinned implementation of the framework.

Development of the Cross Institution Framework

This QAA funded project aimed to create a version of the framework that was appropriate for use in the wider UK HE sector, across multiple types of institutions. It involved six additional HE providers, including from the Russell Group and new specialist providers.

We visited each partner institution and ran a series of structured activities to gather opinions about the Hull framework and how it would need adapting for use elsewhere. At each institution we conducted the following

A focus group of academics, professional services staff, senior leaders, staff and students. Demographic representation of these focus groups is shown in Table 1, with a total of 48 individuals taking part . Focus groups were given the framework to comment on and suggest improvements, with discussions recorded on flipcharts (Example in Figure X).

A workshop open to staff and students focussed on Inclusive Education was held at 5 out of the 6 partner institutions, with a total of 182 individuals taking part. The workshop invited participants to reflect on their own practice, but also to evaluate the framework. For example, we asked participants to give examples of inclusive practice, align them against the Hull framework and identify any examples which didn’t fit in the original framework design. We received 284 examples of practice, of which 25 could not be aligned to the framework, which informed development of the cross-institutional version.

After all visits were completed, a working group derived from the project steering group conducted a thematic analysis of the responses from all institutions. We used template analysis as a method for iterative development of the framework (King, 1998; King 2012), with a total of 6 versions of the template produced. The working group met regularly to discuss findings and adapt the framework language. The final version was agreed upon after input from the steering group.

King, N. (1998) ‘Template analysis’, in G.Symon and C.Cassell (eds.) Qualitative Methods and Analysis in Organizational Research. London: Sage

King, N. (2012) ‘Doing template analysis’, in G.Symon and C.Cassell (eds.) Qualitative Organizational Research: Core Methods and Current Challenges. London: Sage

Table X: Summary of Focus Group Participant Demographics

Role Academic staff 20
Professional services staff 23
Student 5
Gender Identity Male 14
Female 33
Non-binary 1
Prefer not to say 0
Ethnicity Asian 7
Black 4
White 34
Mixed ethnicity 1
Other 1
Prefer not to say 1
Disability No 33
Yes 13
Prefer not to say 2
1st in Family to go to university No 21
Yes 27
Prefer not to say 0
Institution Derby 8
Keele 11
Kings 10
Staffordshire 6
UA92 3
York St John 10
Total Participants 48
Project Leads
Project Steering Group
Lucy Potter (York St John University)
is currently the Administrator for the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Team. She has long-standing interests in decolonial curricula and pedagogy and, for the past few years, has been a member of a grassroots activist movement campaigning for racial justice and against multiple forms of exclusion within and across the UK education system.
Amrita Narang (Quality Assurance Agency)
is a Quality Enhancement and Standards Specialist with Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). She is a senior fellow, with keen interest in teaching, learning and assessment practice for high quality student experience. She is currently pursuing her doctoral inquiry into decoloniality and curriculum reform, using a posthumanist approach.
Filippo Nereo (Keele University)
is Associate Professor and Associate Director in the Keele Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence. His areas of interest are modern languages, migration and HE policy and practice. He is Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Pei-Chi Ho (York St John University)
is a final year Media Production student. She has been a student intern on the QAA Collaborative Enhancement project, gaining valuable experience directing, producing, and editing videos to support the project.
Special Mention
We thank Sue Jones (York St John), Helen Walmsley-Smith (Staffordshire University) and Elizabeth Jack (QAA) for their support as members of the steering group in the early phases of this project. Sue Jones NTF, CATE, PFHEA, is the Executive Head of Education at the Institute of Biomedical Science. Her expertise in inclusive programme and assessment design that successfully addresses awarding gaps was built over 20 years in Higher Education.
Dr Helen Walmsley-Smith SFHEA, was an academic developer at Staffordshire University (now retired).
We also thank all of those who contributed to the development of the framework, through discussion, participation in workshops or being critical friends to the project. We spoke to some amazing people, many of whom have made a real impact on the way we think about inclusive education. We have interacted with over 200 academics, professional services staff, senior leaders, students and student union representatives as part of this project. We particularly thank those who shared their lived experiences of inclusion and exclusion, and recognise the emotional labour that this represents, particularly for those from currently or historically minoritised backgrounds. We also thank those who challenged us, questioned us, or asked us to think more deeply about this topic. We hope that this final resource reflects and represents your diverse perspectives, and thank you for your contributions.