Sector agencies told to take lead on diversifying reading lists

New study shows reading lists are still overwhelmingly ‘male and pale’

十一月 13, 2019
Source: iStock

Higher education institutions and sector agencies must lead the development of strategies that will diversify university reading lists, according to the authors of a new study.  

The study, published in the journal Higher Education, analysed 144 authors of social science papers and 146 authors of science papers included in two UK university reading lists and found white, male and Eurocentric viewpoints were over-represented.

The researchers found that in the social science courses only 7 per cent of the authors listed were from ethnic minorities.

Similarly, 65 per cent of the science authors were white, which rose to 75 per cent for single-author papers, although the researchers note that almost a third of authors on the science list identified as Asian.

The authors said that the lists were clearly not representative of the student population. For example, 39 per cent of UK-domiciled social science students in the UK are from ethnic minorities.

There needs to be “a strategic, sector-wide response” to the findings, according to the authors. Higher education institutions and agencies, such as Advance HE in the UK, “need to develop coherent and consistent strategies that can move the sector towards more inclusive and diverse programmes of study”, they say, highlighting that moves towards diversity are too often confined to individual classrooms and modules.

However, the authors add that individual academics and lecturers should not wait for these strategies to emerge before reviewing their own reading lists.

The reading lists analysed also did not reflect the gender of the student population: 50 per cent of reviewed social science authors were female, versus a student population that is 66 per cent female, and 70 per cent of reviewed science authors were male, compared with a student population that is more than 60 per cent female.

Universities would need to develop a toolkit so their staff could “interrogate diversity” in their readings and more research would be needed to evaluate implementation and outcomes, the authors say.

“This study shows that higher education institutions and agencies need to develop coherent and consistent strategies which can move the whole sector towards programmes of study which are both more inclusive and more diverse,” according to the study’s co-author, Karen Schucan Bird, a research officer at the UCL Institute of Education.

“Universities also need to engage in discussions about what a ‘diverse/inclusive/decolonised’ reading list actually looks like, engaging with both staff and students to ensure clarity and commitment from all.”

The findings also showed that the authors were overwhelmingly affiliated to European, North American or Australasian universities, making up 99 per cent of social science authors and 90 per cent of science authors.

“Away from universities themselves, there are wider structural barriers and inequalities in knowledge production. Academic publishing needs to acknowledge their part in promoting viewpoints from the ‘Global North’ and introduce initiatives to help bring marginalised perspectives into the mainstream of academic thought,” Dr Schucan Bird said.

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