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Diversity is vital for educational success

QMUL’s Principal joins university leaders from across the country in outlining their conviction that equality and diversity are integral to university excellence

“The realisation of personal potential is in no way restricted by race, religion, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity”. This is one of a number of statements made by QMUL’s Principal Simon Gaskell in a report published on 17 October. The national report, published by the higher education equality body, saw the Equality Challenge Unit target the lack of diversity across senior management positions and other top positions within higher education. Based on the results of a series of interviews with university heads, the consensus was that a university which failed to value staff or student diversity simply could not be considered excellent.

Simon Gaskell was one of 12 principals and vice-chancellors from UK universities such as Royal Holloway and Cardiff, who contributed to the ‘The Rationale for Equality and Diversity: How Vice-Chancellors Are Leading Change’, which aims to stress the virtues of equality and diversity at university – something most agree should be a fundamental part of any university ethos.

Historically, Queen Mary has repeatedly shown a commitment to embracing equality and diversity and supporting disadvantaged groups who hope to better their lives through education. The intensions of the university have always been rooted in the pursuit to educate disadvantaged groups in both local areas and across the UK, the embodiment of which resulted in the merge with Westfield College in 1989, a college dedicated specifically to educating women. QMUL was also the first university to commit to paying all staff a living wage and to press industries to adopt it.

It is well-known that QM itself is a university which prides itself on its high levels of diversity, now with over half of the undergraduate population and 50% of the 4,000 person staff-base being female, 26% of whom come from BME backgrounds. There is a strong sense of cultural diversity here, with almost 8,000 EU and international students from 150 different nationalities. And this diversity extends overseas. QMUL now has over 2,000 students currently studying in Beijing for a joint degree at Beijing University.

Many of Principal Gaskell’s comments originate from his time living in Texas, experiencing the way in which his children’s Hispanic friends became victims of both societal and individual prejudice which resulted in poor educational performance and overall potential. This was “an eye opening experience” for him which developed a deep commitment to diversity which has clearly inspired his values as a university Principal. For Gaskell, diversity is about “making the most of the talents of all individuals”, hence his belief that diverse groups are more likely to succeed “where all have contributed and all feel committed to the outcome”.

Gaskell highlights in the report that the commitment to our diverse student body is one of the key reasons Queen Mary has retained excellent quality research staff for many years and also why student satisfaction has been on the rise, now with 89% of students claiming to be satisfied with the quality of their course.

QM’s own strategic plan states that “we celebrate the diversity of our staff as much as that of our student body. We will reinforce targeted programmes of staff support and personal development, including opportunities related to teaching skills and student support, the High-Potential Leaders Programme, Women into Leadership, and tailored provisions for new senior office holders. We will build on recent success to further extend our accreditation in Athena SWAN and related diversity schemes.”

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