How I made a difference: Patrick Johnson, head of equality and diversity, University of Manchester

The university was reviewing undergraduate education, looking at the purpose of a Manchester education and asking what we expect from our graduates.

It included looking at their reasoning and analytical skills, and also the fact that they are educated in an environment that embraces and values cultural diversity, and that is committed to equality of opportunity. So it’s important that graduates leave this university with an understanding of equality and diversity.

We looked at ensuring this happens through our curricula – covering it through the design and delivery of the courses – but we also thought about how best to get that message across to our 37,000 students.

Equality and diversity was covered at the university, but on an ad hoc basis. It depended to some extent on the courses involved – for instance, first-year politics students may cover it as part of their studies – but we felt the faculties needed to have a plan in place for covering it, and that we could support this.

We already have an e-learning diversity programme for staff. That works quite well, and I thought it would be useful to do something similar for students, giving them a basic understanding of equality and diversity.

We’re still debating whether the programme will be compulsory. We’re at the pilot stage, trialling it in one faculty. In some schools, we’ve made it compulsory, while in others we’re just promoting it and keeping an eye on uptake. In dentistry, for instance, we’ve made it compulsory for all second-year students, while in the medical school we are running it on a voluntary basis. I imagine we’ll start by heavily promoting the programme, but I can see us getting to a stage where it’s compulsory.

We’re coming to the end of the pilot phase and will start gathering information.

Feedback has been good, particularly from the academics involved. Students tend to like it too, and see it as a positive development. It’s not onerous – it takes an hour and is fairly interactive. Students feel they’re learning something from it.

Our next step will be to tweak the e-learning programme, and I hope we’ll be able to launch it in time for the new academic year. We’ll talk to the various academics, schools and faculties so we know the best way to promote the programme across the whole university.

We need to let people know how important it is that they buy into it. We’re hoping the programme will not only improve students’ employability, but will also inform them of the benefits of social diversity.

Why it worked…

  • We knew what we wanted to achieve
  • We ran a comprehensive pilot scheme
  • We took feedback on board.

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