Navigating Challenges, Fostering Cultural Change, and Building an Anti-Racist and Inclusive Future

Q1. What is your vision, as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dundee, for achieving racial equality within our institution of higher learning? Can you describe the key elements of this vision and what it would look like when successfully realised?

As Principal and Vice-Chancellor, my vision for achieving racial equality within our institution is rooted in a steadfast commitment to fostering a diverse, inclusive, and equitable academic community. This vision is not only a moral imperative but also an essential component of our mission to provide an exceptional educational experience to all our students and to contribute positively to society at large.

I should add that this is not only my vision, but it is one that is shared very much by the leadership team, each of whom has an active role in supporting our work in relation to equality, diversity, and inclusion. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost shares with the Chief Operating Officer and University Secretary responsibility, as Co-Chairs of the University Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee, for ensuring that this vision is implemented effectively. We have created a new Assistant Vice-Principal role, and appointed Professor Hari Hundal into this role and we are also investing considerable additional resource into a dedicated professional service EDI team. We have also required each school and directorate to clearly identify a senior colleague, who is a member of the leadership team, to drive the EDI strategy at local level working within a reformed committee structure.

Hari has been leading the consultation process for our new institutional EDI strategy and progress on this strategy will be underpinned by targets we have set in relation to three carefully selected KPIs. Success in meeting these targets (related to workforce diversity, elimination of degree awarding gaps, and ensuring that we have an inclusive campus community) will require progress on a range of fronts captured in institutional and local action plans.

I hope the vision is also shared well beyond the University’s leadership team, by all members of the community at the University.

The key elements of our vision for racial equality within our university are as follows:

1. Inclusive Campus Culture: We will cultivate an inclusive campus culture where all members of the University community, regardless of their racial or ethnic background, feel valued, respected, and empowered. This involves actively promoting an atmosphere of mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation for our diverse community. Creating an inclusive campus community is a key thematic pillar of our developing institutional EDI strategy.

2. Representation and Leadership: We will work to increase the representation of racially and ethnically diverse individuals at all levels of leadership within our eight academic schools and eleven professional service directorates. We will actively seek out, support, and promote talented individuals from underrepresented backgrounds and provide training and leadership opportunities to help develop existing staff in these groups and to assist in their career development.

3. Inclusive Curriculum: We will work collaboratively with our University and local community to craft and implement an inclusive, or decolonised, curriculum that embraces the richness of global perspectives and voices, fostering exploration of critical themes and advancing research and scholarship in vital areas of study.

4. Equity in Access and Success: We will strive to eliminate disparities in access, retention, and graduation rates among students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. We will provide support, resources, and mentorship programs to ensure the success of all students.

Addressing the degree awarding gap between Black and White students will be a prominent Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in our EDI strategy. This is something that all schools will be held to account on, and progress will be tracked through the planning process.

5. Zero Tolerance for Discrimination: We will have a zero-tolerance policy for any form of racial discrimination, harassment, or bias within our institution. Transparent reporting mechanisms will be established to address such issues promptly and effectively.

6. Diverse Faculty and Staff Development: We will invest in professional development programs and resources to support the growth and advancement of academic and professional service staff from underrepresented backgrounds. This includes mentorship, training, and career progression opportunities. We are committed to ensure that our career development processes are framed and implemented in ways that display a critical consciousness of longstanding inequalities so that we play our part in ensuring that these do not hold back any of our staff in realising their full potential.

7. Community Engagement: We will actively engage with the local Dundee community to create partnerships and initiatives that address racial and social issues, fostering a sense of shared responsibility and commitment to racial equality. We are conscious of the responsibility we have, as an organisation that is privileged to engage in education, research and engagement, to provide leadership in tackling racism and all other aspects of the legacy of historical racial injustice.

8. Becoming an Anti-Racist Institution: As should be clear from many of the points made above, we realise than in a society living with the legacy of racial injustice we cannot be neutral in seeking to address racial injustice. In other words, seeking to eliminate racism is not enough, but rather we must seek to be an actively anti-racist institution, one that is willing to reflect critically on all aspects of our work so that we achieve a genuinely equitable level playing field for all staff and students.

In the end, this vision requires us to establish an institution that’s both inclusive and equitable, where racial equality is not merely an aspiration but a living reality. I aspire to see the University of Dundee become a shining example of progress in this vital journey. Realising this vision will demand the combined effort and unwavering commitment of our entire university community, and I am fully committed to lead this charge with determination and dedication.

Q2. What challenges has the University faced in implementing the Race Equality Charter action plan? What is being done to overcome those challenges?

The implementation of the Race Equality Charter action plan at our University has indeed been a significant undertaking, and while we have made progress, there have also been challenges that we still need to overcome. It’s crucial to address these challenges transparently and proactively, as doing so will enable us to take effective measures to overcome them. I have highlighted some of the key challenges we have faced and the strategies we are employing to address them below:

1. Awareness and Engagement: One of our initial challenges lay in raising awareness about the Race Equality Charter (REC) across our entire university community. Many students and staff were unfamiliar with the REC, its objectives, and the pivotal role they could play in its realisation. To address this, we’ve taken proactive steps, appointing UEG equality champions who advocate for issues pertaining to age, gender, disability, race, and sexual orientation and engaging with our staff networks. Professor Wendy Alexander serves as the UEG champion for Race, Faith, and Belief matters, actively engaging with the BME staff network to amplify their concerns within UEG. Furthermore, we have recently welcomed Dr Andrea Mohan as our new institutional REC lead, and I am confident that Andrea will inject fresh vigour into our REC initiatives. This will involve elevating awareness on race issues through meetings with Schools/Directorates, senior managers, EDI leads, and engaging with the wider staff and student community about the pivotal role of the REC and its action plan.

2. Data Collection and Analysis: Collecting and analysing comprehensive data on racial and ethnic disparities within our institution is another challenge. Privacy concerns, data accuracy, and access to meaningful data have presented obstacles. We are investing in our data infrastructure and colleagues within Strategic Change and Delivery are working towards streamlining data collection, ensuring data privacy and security while enabling transparency and accessibility for informed decision-making to help tackle unacceptable inequalities.

3. Cultural Change and Resistance: Changing the culture of an organisation is a significant challenge, particularly when addressing deeply ingrained issues such as racial inequality. Some members of the university community may resist change due to discomfort, fear, or a lack of understanding. To address this, we have introduced a mandatory EDI training module for all staff, developed an anti-racist pre-matriculation training module for students, established an online race equality forum where staff and students can openly and respectfully raise and discuss race and culture-related issues, and invited high-profile external speakers such as Professor Sir Geoff Palmer and Professor Nicola Rollock to engage with our community on race-related issues. Additionally, as an institution, we have also examined our historical ties through the Founders project to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and committed to implementing the recommendations and actions that flowed from that project and, for the past seven years, embraced the value of hosting a vibrant series of events as part of Black History Month. Collectively, these activities develop cultural competency among our community and foster an ethos of open dialogue that allows for a more inclusive and supportive environment.

4. Resource Allocation: Meeting our EDI strategic goals and implementing the REC action plan demands dedicated resources – both financial and human. In our pursuit of effective EDI commitment, we are enacting significant changes and investments. These efforts include relocating the Professional Services EDI team to the newly established Strategic Change and Delivery Directorate, expanding the central EDI team to strengthen delivery and support of our equality agenda. As I indicated early on in this response, I was also delighted to see the recent appointment of Professor Hari Hundal, formerly the University’s REC lead, as our Assistant Vice Principal for EDI who reports directly to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost. This is a step that underscores our forward-looking focus on driving positive and impactful change to our EDI landscape. In addition, we are allocating resources to establish systems that streamline reporting of harassment, bullying, discrimination, and race hate incidents, ensuring more efficient support for those who report such events.

5. Sustaining Momentum: Maintaining the momentum and ensuring that the commitment to racial equality remains strong over time is an ongoing challenge. We are addressing this by establishing clear accountability mechanisms, regular progress assessments, sharing examples of good practice across the institution, and continued engagement with all stakeholders. We are also embedding the principles of the REC into our strategic plans and policies to ensure long-term commitment.

6. Inclusivity in Decision Making: Ensuring that the voices and perspectives of staff and students from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds are heard and included in decision-making processes is crucial. To address this challenge, we have established diverse working groups and committees that include a wide range of stakeholders to actively participate in shaping and monitoring our action plan.