Friday Sep 02, 2022
Decolonising Research Series: Decolonising DMU and the PGR Experience
Friday Sep 02, 2022
Friday Sep 02, 2022
This series of podcast episodes will focus on Decolonising Research, and feature talks from the Decolonising Research Festival held at the University of Exeter in June and July 2022.
The second epsiode of the series will feature Dr. Richard Hall from De Montfort University and his talk 'Decolonising DMU and the PGR Experience.'
Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Hello, and welcome to rd in the in betweens. I'm your host Kelly Preece. And every fortnight I talk to a different guest, about researchers development, and everything in between.
Hello, and welcome to the second in our series on decolonizing research. In this episode, we hear from Dr. Richard Hall from De Montfort University, talking about decolonizing DMU. And the PGR experience that's going
to show on the road then. Thank you ever so much for the invite, Chris, and to Kelly as well. It was it's always lovely to get invited down to come talk about work that you've been doing in particular in relation to decolonizing. A little bit of background about me, I work at De Montfort in Leicester. I'm a professor of education and technology there and a National Teaching Fellow, I've been working with a team looking in the first instance at the awarding gap for undergraduate students that was on a project called freedom to achieve and I was the kind of project evaluation and research director on that. And we have a couple of publications out on the back of that I'll talk about that in a little bit more in detail in a in a second. And now I have the same kind of role on our decolonizing DMU project, which has been running since 2019. So I just want to I'm not, I guess I'm, I'm not reclaiming. I don't know what I'm claiming in terms of expertise. I'm not sure I'm claiming any. What I want to do really is to talk you through some of the things that we have been doing as we've tried to widen our work in relation to postgraduate research and some of the issues that have cropped up in that space that we are trying to work through that may then trigger some conversation. So I've got I've also should say I'll pop into the chat afterwards, I've got I've got the slides and some other papers, a self audit tool that we generated, and a presentation on research ethics and PGR on my website, so I'll ping those in the chat, so you'll have access to those as well. I also want to add that much of this work has come out of a long, long period of work with doctors Lucy Ansley, and Paris Connolly, who both currently work at DMU. Lucy is the research fellow on the decolonizing, the new project in Paris was her was her maternity cover. And it was a great privilege to kind of work with them and this work would not have been possible without them. So this is what I want to talk about for the next kind of 25 minutes in a rattle through. I want to try to situate work on the intersection of decolonizing and PGR. Inside an institutional, anti racist program of work called decolonizing DMU. Where that previous previously, that program of work is not really prioritized research is prioritized on the undergraduate experience, it's it's prioritize the awarding gap in particular. So I want to talk about that really, and in particular inside an institution that is teaching intensive and research active.
Again, the slides are available, I just wanted to kind of give a little bit of an overview, just to say that in terms of our BGR, these latest figures that we have, but in in relation to rpgr population by ethnic group, it is really it is relatively mixed, there are lower levels of of white and certainly white British students than the than the sector average. That's one kind of layer against which we're kind of trying to think about this work going a little bit deeper to kind of think about moving beyond uncovering that layer to try to revealing what exists within that layer, we can see that there's a very definite layer of that level of kind of complexity within that in terms of what we mean by not white, I guess I mean, white in itself is quite, it's complex. And I'm not going here into thinking about other intersections in relation to gender in relation to disability in relation to kind of, I guess, more intersectional kind of understandings. So there is a kind of a layer, a set of layers within that, against which our work has to be placed. So what if we're trying to engage with the lived experiences of students within this space? And in order that those that range of students can see them also reflected in the institution. And as creating the research environment within the institution there are that it isn't as simple for us as kind of white and then Boehm and we're trying to we're trying to, I guess, kind of think through that when we're working with supervisory teams or on doctoral training, for instance. And another layer within this Boris, which is, which is increasingly important, we're seeing within some within some doctoral research, and I'll talk about that in terms of linguist a little bit later, is in relation to what our DDR population looks like in relation to home and international students and what the implications there may be of working with international students through a kind of vehicle decolonizing lens, it's important to note here, I guess that our, in these in these figures, our PGR, population clusters, black is of African heritage.
Now, the, that's kind of a way of kind of, I guess, trying to talk about the complexities within which we're talking about the population, that populations that we're engaging with, and that will be mirrored with our kind of stuff groupings as well, all of our stuff, groupings tend to look a lot more like me, and tend to be a lot more white, a lot more male, certainly, in particular areas of the university. I'm just gonna give a little bit of background in terms of the context of where this where the work I'm going to talk about has come from, and situate that kind of unraveling of the, of the, of the PGR cohort, our our background, our work over the course since really since 2017, when we were part of a Higher Education Funding Council for England project that then became an office students funded project called freedom to achieve our focus in that was on undergraduate achievement and awarding nothing to do with the kind of student experience beyond that we weren't really thinking about institutional policies and procedures, and we certainly weren't thinking about research. Bringing to achieve was a partnership where it was led by Kingston University. And they, they had they had they had a an inclusive curriculum framework, which is on this diagram is the module on the kind of top right or sort of what whatever that is two o'clock on the right. At the top, they'd also at 12 o'clock, they'd also defined some value added metrics by which kind of program teams could look at the awarding gap within their within their programs. We were looking at this effectively trying to try to link it at the time with work we were doing on on disability and support for universal design for learning as well around kind of around around disability and changes to the DSA in particular that the 2015 I think it was Tory government had bought in. So we were thinking about this really from an undergraduate awarding perspective. And in our co creation events with students. There are some headline thing, headline categories that came out that I think are important that we carried through into our work with PGR students from 2019. So this was uncovered we had we ran some co creation events with students in 2017, through 19. And some of the issues that they they feel like the both students fly with us and with program teams, around relationships, the relationships inside the institution, but also inside the classroom, however constructed, could be lecture could be supervisory team, I guess, if we're thinking about PGR, thinking about their own development in the space as well, and whether that was culturally relevant in relation to the kind of academic support that they were getting. I think that that's important for us to consider stuff around employability as well. And whether that whether the kind of that outplacement stuff beyond the institution, certainly very relevant, I think, for some of my PhD students, whether that whether that was specialized enough for them to kind of think about their own kind of their own kind of, I guess, books or on identity related work in that space. The cultural kind of engagement in terms of teaching and learning, which we kind of we all know about, and a lot of this has come from as well is in there, but also issues around the kind of campus community, wherever there's a sense of belonging and belonging was talked about a lot. One of the other things that was talked about a lot was a perception of inherent whiteness, within that within the space. And these are these are some of the issues that we wanted to kind of carry through and think about in the context of rpgr work. So that was 2017 through 2019. With this fkn office the students funded project freedom to achieve the the outcome of that work really was that we needed to go wider than awarding we needed to go wider than engage engagement with the with the undergraduate issues around retention progression continuation, awarding that this was broader than the continuum. So we defined this project called And decolonizing DMU, which was predicated upon five areas work on where we staff work with students broadly constructed, Library and Learning Services, research, and then the institution and the institutional stuff was really about the race equality charter application that we were working towards. But it was also thinking about policies and structures and issues in relation to things like recruitment and retention.
At that point at the start, and this disconnects, I think, to our kind of research philosophy, we've also produced draft working position, it's a working position, it is permanently in kind of draft format, it is permanently kind of up for grabs. It was a moment in which we were trying to synthesize what the what the project as a whole was about. And it is important to note that it's called decolonizing DMU. It is, it deliberately centers a process, it deliberately centers the idea that this is a movement, that this isn't a fixed thing that I cannot define Jerusalem on the Hill for you. But we might all in that process of kind of moving. We're thinking about the work of for instance, Zapatista movement that, that asking we move, but we will be questioned where we are in order to take the next step in order to question where we are in order to take the next step. So we were trying to think about this, at the intersection of kind of plural approaches thinking about this in terms of difference and the dignity of difference thinking about this in terms of diversifying in all sorts of spaces and ways decentering. And that's super important. I'll come on to talk about when we think about what Pete postgraduate research students told us about theory and method within their work. So thinking about decentering, knowledge production, thinking about relationality within that, and and devaluing hierarchies. And I'm, I'm super, again, kind of aware of the fact that this is a white male professor talking to you about this kind of stuff. And also diminishing some voices and opinions of dominating. And there's a link to the working position. And it's taken really from a kind of an analysis of work on critical race on abolitionist studies on critical university studies as well. It's about kind of intersection. So as we've moved forward with decolonizing, DMU, we've tried to anchor research in the space, much more than that it was so we've renewed it at the start of the back end of last year and the start of this year. Moving away from those five kinds of components moving towards four commitments, this echoes the work of London Metropolitan University as they've generated their work on an anti racism strategy, which also had commitments embedded within it. And that was a kind of response to some of the work of the ECHR on tackling racism in universities from 2019. The quality of education and research is embedded within that also issues around progression and representation in relation to the kind of stuff within that space as well and what we what might happen there around equality impact, for instance, around promotions. However, however, we have a new vice chancellor, my new vice chancellor, she's Katie Normington has been with us since January 2021. Prior to that, we had an interregnum, with an interim vice chancellor for two years. So at the moment of genesis of decolonizing, DMU, we had moved from a previous Vice Chancellor, who, who left us into A into A into a period with an interim just that 18 months, and then a new vice chancellor. So all of a sudden the kind of strategic governance of this there was a space inside which we could reframe stuff. Now we're seeing with a kind of a new take on it, that there's much more of a push on, on how we map this work to our x axis and participation plan, the race equality charter and thinking again about the awarding gap. So, that kind of sense of Liberator emancipatory work that I talked about in the in the in the working paper gets filed down because of strategic kind of imperatives. So just want to move on to talk about the research environment within this within this context of this project. We had a we had a range of priority stuff we wanted to do evaluate the impact of the project's activity. We wanted to generate a deeper understanding of the journey to become anti racist. We wanted to analyze and this is more important these the next two are the kinds of things I'm going to talk about in the next few slides analyzing the institutional research environment. In particular insight because our research students sit within our research institutes and research centers and they relate to our doctoral training programs when they are supported by a Doctoral College So that research environment and issues around the research community, thinking about
anti racist research principles, whether we're also moving to the heart of the work we were doing within this strand, we will also try and explore perceptions of what decolonizing means for the university as a whole, I'll come on to talk about some of the outcomes from that because they, they there's a real tension between those, I think, when we when we have worked with and talk to staff on the one hand, and what some of the PhD students PGR students that we've talked to, through workshops have told us in relation to kind of the conservativism of the former, and kind of the desire for more radical action on the on the on the for the latter. There's a lot of stuff on here, this, this is just a guess some of the stuff around the environment that we've done, looking at data with research services, in terms of kind of who is involved in projects, who has been bidding who is PI on project, who's involved in impact case, that is how a PGR is and how is the work of PGR is involved in that. We've done some work with our faculty recent head of research students in business law on admissions and transitions. I'll talk about that in a second. With a dedicated doctoral working group. We've discussed research training, centrally, we've engaged with the faculty research ethics committee, in health and life sciences, which I happen to chair now, in terms of decolonizing, and ethics. And there's a link here to a presentation that I gave to a step of decolonizing, STEM curriculum Working Group on decolonizing and ethics as well that you can access. And also crucially, we had a, we had discussions with 10 of our research institutes, and centers. And I have to confess here that we had 32, I went, I went, I went to 10. Friends, if I'm honest with you, because there are some I knew would would definitely want to give us a harder ride, who definitely have do not have a view that issues around decolonizing a structure or within institutions, and certainly do not apply to Pete The PGR experience. So for us, then there was a, I guess, a focus a little bit of a focus on thinking about through that work, the home home versus international or home and international. And the way in which home and international are entangled was an issue, including some work on language and language in the supervisory space and language within institutions in relation to PGR work. So there's a link here to some of the work of one of my one of the PhD students whom I'm privileged to work with Sumaya Luna, who is who is doing work on the experience of international students, and looking at this in terms of race to linguistics, thinking as well about this in relation to decolonizing and research Engaged Teaching. So trying to think about that trying to think about the relationship between PGR work. And in the context of more broadly research and more broadly, how research influences scholarly practice and teaching as well. Our research tends to map to represent communities made marginal, but tends to be short term and conservative. So one of the things that we've seen almost is a is a fear or a questioning and by some people that actually what the work that they're doing is extractivism it's extracting from particular communities in terms of kinds of data, for instance, and what are the issues there in relation to to participation in co creation, and that that also came out from work we were we were exploring with PGR students. And then this point about if we're trying to enhance the institution, institutions strategically tend to be obsessed with data. However, those data in for decision making those data tend to be owned and managed by different groupings within the institution and trying to get access to them and to link them in order to understand how they what they reveal about the lived experiences that we are being talked about is problematic. So in terms of in terms of that kind of perceptions of decolonizing and this is this is effectively from whilst the 299 surveys here were staff and students, the interviews and the diary entries were where staff
and really I want to I want just wanted wanted to flag that the that the staff related stuff, effectively focused upon in terms of what decolonizing means and what could be done was much more focused on EDI. It was much more focused upon kind of classic equality, diversity inclusion strategies with limited engagement with reimagining the university with reimagining what spaces might look like with reimagining what, what relationships inside the institution might look like. But it was much more predicated upon kind of equality of opportunity, really, and not seeing kind of structural issues as being a problem within the space. But some stuff, there was much there was much more of a sense of an argument that actually you can't decolonize a NEO colonial space. And that is what the university in the Global North is. For some black and ethnically minoritized students and staff, there was a sense that actually there's a there are problems of trust in in trusting the institution to deliver and that any engagement will just purely be tokenistic. There's all it was also problematic, certainly for the three of the staff that we interviewed. And it came through in a number of the survey, open text responses that some white students and staff a whole whole range of stuff here and denial around refusal about and in particular, and what about Murray, and that what about re being about white working class boys in particular. So here, we were trying to situate our work on decolonizing, I think around trying to how do we build a longer term strategy, whilst at the same time focusing upon this idea that that we can take an anti racist approach, which is daily impersonal, and local and challenging, whilst at the same time doing more decolonizing work that might be about unlearning, and might be about culture change. So in terms of PGR, it is a little bit more detail about what we about what we have been doing over the course of the last kind of 18 to 24 months influenced and impacted by COVID, I would have to say, because really slow down progress within the institution. The first thing that we don't want to talk about that we did was around this issue of of having a working group in our Faculty of Business and Law that was catalyzed in conversation with our faculty head of research students who were subsequently left. And so some of the momentum was dark drifted away because of that. The work that they were interested in discussing, and we had we held a series of workshops on this was around barriers to inclusivity, and ensuring that we can support diversity in relation to candidates and how we I guess, or transition and the criteria that we use when reviewing and assessing applications in relation to the types of methods the backgrounds the the the connections and identities that people are coming in with. And then their methodological approaches that they want to come in with, rather than necessarily forcing them down and kind of a standard sort of set of roots. And there was a sense that that that was happening. And there was a need to effectively to undertake some more reflexive development or training with potential supervisors focus really on kind of unpacking kind of the language you we use in relation to assessment. So how are we assessing excellence? How are we assessing originality? Are we thinking about implicit or unconscious bias when we are when we're working with prospective students, and also with those who are transitioning into the institution and what this group wanted to do was draft a core set of principles around recruitment with their supervisors that will be the would have to think about this issue of balancing disciplinary or subject based quality, whatever that is, and issues of equality or equity. And so in the workshops that we held, people were focused on applications are principles and criteria being applied equally. Are they transparent? For instance, is some sort of hidden? Is there a hidden curriculum in relation to this? Do we is there an expectation of conformity and hegemonic narratives within within the kind of theoretical and methodological domains? And how are we communicating what we what we're looking for? Understanding that we're dealing with developmental and naive and novice and
researchers in this space, also, being mindful within this and this was brought up by a number of supervisors about the emotional labor that will be required both both of PGR students and supervisors given how given how intense this work could be, and for some, there'll be an A would have to invoke cultural code switching in order to cope within the institution. One of the other issues that was raised was was how have we manage all of this within within a competitive environment where where we just have the ref result sale and people are competing for, for internal bursaries. They're competing for the resources, institutions are on Can disciplines and individuals kind of locked into a competitive environment? And how does money work within that space in particular in relation to kind of international and home students the role of visas within that space as well was talked about? And how do we how do we appropriately mentor and involve a read the full range of PhDs within that space within that kind of more competitive environment. Supervisors, there's another couple of slides on their supervisors talked about transitions and support giving power to PGR. Students themselves as groups were those groups existed within institutes and centers, in order to help overcome issues of isolation in order to support mentoring in order to try to support transition, and here, a very critical issue was raised in terms of how to support the internal transition into PGR, into PhD PGR work, rather than that focus upon external or externally funded students, for instance, part of part of this as well was focused upon in terms of transitions, the pressure the process related pressures of the first year, and how do we work with a range of students to around our relationships, our communication of that our expectations of that, so in particular, here in relation to kind of probation reviews, and who is undertaking those, and an ethics where they might form a block methodologically, or again, theoretically, and here, one of the issues that was was raised was around wellbeing, in particular, and mental health, and particularly in relation to kind of supervisory relationship relationships. And that's, that's this is my final slide on what on those kind of supervisory workshop outcomes. And that was around those kinds of considerations for supervisors. And in and in particular, here, I guess, a sense of how do we broaden the skill sets within teams in order that in order that student identity identities can be supported within that within within the space, and so that's a kind of constant negotiation with students, in terms of the in terms of the PGRs themselves, what they were, what they were focused upon, was much more about horizontal relations within research institutes within their supervisory spaces, respectful of people's kind of privilege, as a as a as a risk as an established researcher with a PhD. The focus upon having dedicated bits of work reading groups, for instance, modes of analysis, different modes of analysis and presentation in order to understand different perspectives, positions and values in particular. So to see this much more driven by humane values within the research environment, and the research sets of relationships, rather than that kind of competitive value, economic value and surplus driven approach that they were situated within, and then how to build a kind of positive, more positive, more inclusive, learning environment. And again, a sense of coming back to kind of methodology and theory and the students were quite strong on not wanting, not wanting to be involved in research that was extractive pushing back against hegemonic theory and hegemonic methods and seeing much more kind of intersection and interaction between theory and method, thinking about engaging with grassroots and participatory work, and thinking much more about intersectional approaches and working with communities.
So I don't really want to talk much more about, about that about kind of that side of things other than to say that one of the things that kind of came out of this work with 10 reselect centers and Institute's but also with our students and staff was the self audit tool, and it's linked here. It's also linked on my website, and I'll put the I'll put the blog post up in the chat in a second. There's also a talk a dedicated talk about the self audit tool as part of our our first hour decolonizing festival we had a month or so ago, and there's a link to it there. But one of the things that we ask it research institutes and centers to look at well, here's a series of issues in relation to PGR. There are there's a series of other issues we asked them to think about in terms of impact output environment. But in terms of in terms of PGR, we're thinking about we're asking them, do they are they monitoring registrations, completions, terminations, withdrawals in order to come up with action plans? How are they engaging with voice within the context of their center or Institute How are they thinking about scholarships and bursaries? Are they? Are they thinking about dedicated support for black and ethnically minoritized applications into the space? Or are they just open? Not not by you. I said, just you know, and that sounds pejorative, but as their dedicated work varies, that is happening in order to decode the space. For a range of students, this is a critical one, our students are being supported in finding mentors outside of their supervisory teams, I've just we've just been working on with one student that I supervise on on finding someone who can help them in much more detail around critical race. So we've brought that person in. And then what are we thinking about in terms of what do you think about in terms of methodology and theory, the the construction and composition of supervisory teams, and also an examination teams. So this is a range of stuff that we are thinking about in relation to that. So that's the kind of last slide on this, I just, I just then, just want to caution, I guess, before I finish, that a lot of this is now is now increasingly governed, as we know, by a drive a policy driver governance and regulation and funding drive around value and value for money. So we we see this being driven by the Office for Students have a value for money strategy, which against which institutions are regulated. And there's been a an increasing, I guess, momentum around ideas of value as opposed to humane values. And one of the things that our project has been trying to do is to think about relationality humane values. However, we define those, and, as I said before, a kind of movements of dignity really, but they do tend to run up against these regulatory requirements around value and surplus within the space. We equally know that the government is, is has a focus on freedom of speech, and it constructs that in a particular way as well. And at the bottom here, we have a recent tweet from Susan Lapworth, the
acting head of Office of students talking, talking about how she would expect autonomous, autonomous universities to be thinking carefully and independently about free speech. When signing up to the talks about these sorts of schemes. She's talking about Athena SWAN race equality charter, she's talking about work around decolonizing, for instance. So there's a there's a, there's a cultural and policy terrain that's been constructed in this space. And we we know that there's a need for this work to happen. There's a lot of evidence that has that has been kind of raised from the kind of leading roots work in relation to the PGR, the EHR, CS work on tackling racial harassment, for instance. But intersectional and differential experiences of mental health, for instance. So we know that there's an issue there, but it is being challenged explicitly by government in this space. And it does mean that for institutional leaders trying to do work, for instance, around decolonizing and PGR. There's a line to be there's a line to be trodden, I guess. So. There's just a few quotes from from Gavin Williamson, as part of the government's higher education restructuring regime for around COVID-19. So if you wanted if you want, if you want money, so if you're struggling and you want money is in relation to kind of your response to the pandemic is now closed, then then there are efficiencies there are requirements wrapped around that. And one of them there is a commitment to academic freedom and free speech and student use. Student Unions should not be subsidizing niche activism and campaigns DFD in a statement in 2020, on reducing bureaucratic burden in research and innovation, again, marked out Athena SWAN and race equality work as inefficient, bureaucratic and detracting from core teaching activities. In the free the free speech and academic freedom. Bill, it's very clear that it regards to colonizing as a contested political ideology. So there's there's that space as well. And then I mean, adenan, speaking in response to the Krej commission, it's very clear that an institutional response and a societal response to a lot of these issues should be around the individual and the individuals agency and resilience and support and that support should come from institutions that there is no structure or set of issues that are driving any of these problems in relation to, for instance, PGR transition or BGR achievement and awarding, and instead the issue here is around quality and standards, choice based consumer rights, access participation, and then employment outcomes that is going to be outcomes that drive this. So I just think it's important that that policy framework shapes the institutional appetite for this work, and it shapes some of the responses that we're seeing from staff in relation to conservative responses as opposed to the PGR students desire and drive for something more radical.
And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to like, rate and subscribe. And join me next time where I'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between
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