Do students have to conform to our values?

It takes a convergence of events and a receptive mind to gain new insight. This thought was prompted by a planned conversation with a colleague and the chance arrival in our office of a copy of ‘The Doctorate: international stories of the UK experience’, Trahar (2011).

In discussing academic advising, we came across the challenge of advising students whose values might not be the same as ours or those espoused in the higher education system in the UK. The job of the advisor should be to make students aware of the values inherent in the UK system. This is good. Students should always be made aware of the expectations of an educational system but you have to wonder how far we ‘force’ (if such is the right term) students to conform to those values in order to do well. That by espousing values that have developed over hundreds of years in UK academia we are unconsciously devaluing the student’s own values and the culture from which those values derived.

It is a situation neatly summed up by Trahar (2011) in her story of a supervision of a student with very different beliefs to her own. Trahar struggled  with notions of herself as open to diversity yet confronted with ideas of the world at odds with her own beliefs. The story was resolved with discussing her discomfort with the student which allowed them both to move forward. How often does this happen? This might work with a close doctoral supervision relationship but what about the undergraduate with their infrequent contact with their advisor?

Stockfelt (in Trahar 2011) rails against the hegemony of the western epistemologies of (mostly) dead white men that must be referenced. How can these be relevant frameworks for understanding the stories of disaffected young men in Jamaica? All around academia you will find ‘white’ curricula. It is not surprising really, most staff are white. We tend to teach and design our curricula around our research interests and with what we are most familiar. Or possibly we are directed in certain ways by, mostly white, professional bodies.

So how do we create a truly diverse and inclusive curriculum? I don’t have the solution to that (if you do please let me know!) In my work, I hope that the global citizenship graduate attribute will be a lever to have the conversation and to push the curricula in a more diverse direction. But first, I will start with my own practice and use May & Thomas’ (2010) audit questions and of course have a serious reflection about how to make the delivery more inclusive by September!


May, H. & Thomas, L. (2010) Embedding equality and diversity in the curriculum: Self-evaluation framework. HEA: York

Stockfelt, S. (2011) ‘Slave to the white leaders on paper? The PhD expedition’ in Trahar, S. (ed) The Doctorate: international stories of the UK experience, HEA ESCalate: Bristol

Trahar, S. (2011) The Doctorate: international stories of the UK experience, HEA ESCalate: Bristol