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Equality and Diversity

This page offers an overview of how equality and diversity have been considered as part of the Student Transitions Enhancement Theme.

Equality and diversity has featured throughout the three years of the Theme. Scoping and specific work was carried out in relation to two specific groups of students: those with experience of being in care; and international students. In addition, QAA Scotland held a series of focus groups on gender. Further details can be found in the section below.

Recognising the volume and breadth of work underway within and outside the sector, it was agreed the best way of adding value would be to provide signposting to the key areas of most relevance. Equality and diversity remains a priority and we will continue to consider opportunities where we could add value to work being undertaken elsewhere in the sector.

Work conducted by QAA as part of the Student Transitions Enhancement Theme

Care experience

During the first year of the Student Transitions Enhancement Theme, legislation came into effect that assigned additional responsibilities for those with experience of care.  Working with the Scottish Funding Council, CELCIS (The Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland) and Who Cares? Scotland, QAA Scotland produced a Corporate Parenting Factsheet.  QAA Scotland also supported a training session run by Who Cares? Scotland and a half-day conference organised by the Enhancement Themes Student Network in April 2017.

International students

During the second year of the Student Transitions Enhancement Theme, QAA Scotland commissioned desk-based and consultative research into the experiences and needs of international students transitioning into the Scottish higher education sector. The resulting report International Students - Transitions into Scottish Higher Education is available to download.  This was a scoping exercise designed to identify whether further work might be undertaken during the final year of the Theme.  While the Theme Leaders’ Group did not prioritise further work in this area, the report was received with interest by the sector, and was the catalyst for a half-day conference at the University of Strathclyde in March 2017.  Institutions have also reported that they have used the recommendations contained within the report as a basis for assessing their approaches to supporting international students.

Read more about international student transitions

Gender focus groups

As part of its Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce strategy, the Scottish Funding Council published an Action Plan designed to address gender imbalance on HE programmes.  The SFC has identified subject areas where there is university-level underrepresentation of either male students (social studies; nursing; teacher training; psychology) or female students (architecture, building and planning; engineering; technologies; computer sciences).  Its ambition is that, by 2030, no subject will have a gender imbalance of 75:25 in either direction. 

During the second year of the Student Transitions Enhancement Theme, QAA Scotland conducted a focus group with students who were in a significant gender minority on their course.  This was a scoping exercise designed to identify whether further work might be undertaken during the final year of the Theme.

Work conducted by Scottish higher education institutions as part of the Student Transitions Enhancement Theme

Several institutions have conducted work aimed at improving the transition experiences of care experienced students.  Glasgow Caledonian University offers a package of support to incoming students from a care background: this includes one-to-one mentoring for senior school pupils in years S5 and S6, taster visits to HEI campuses, accommodation and financial support, and contextualised admissions.  The University of Strathclyde operates a residential summer school for high school students in S2 and S3, along with one-to-one mentoring of care experienced students throughout their studies, and monitors the admission, progression and retention of care experienced students across the institution.  Several institutions held the now-retired Buttle Mark (see below), a requirement of which is a named point of contact for care experienced students.  Some institutions have developed this role more fully: Robert Gordon University has a dedicated advisor, who provides both pastoral and educational support.

The University of Dundee conducted research into the experiences of students transitioning to professional practice placements.  As part of this research, they compared the experiences of disabled and non-disabled students, finding that while both groups experienced some challenges, these could be exacerbated for disabled students as a consequence of both their impairments and attitudes to disability. 

Queen Margaret University offers a six-week, community-based programme entitled Mad People’s History and Identity.  Besides a requirement to have experience of mental health issues, anyone is eligible to attend.  Topics include: language and labelling; a history of treatments, power and discrimination; madness and gender, class, race and sexuality; a history of mental health activism; and relevant sociological theory.  The course is funded by NHS Lothian Mental Health and Wellbeing, along with the Consultation and Advocacy Promotion Service (CAPS), a local voluntary organisation.  It provides an example of community and university collaboration in its funding model, and an example of student participation in curriculum design and development.  A summary of this course can be found here.

Work being undertaken elsewhere in the Scottish higher education sector

Higher Education Academy (HEA)

The HEA’s Embedding Equality and Diversity in the Curriculum project has, to date, resulted in a suite of valuable resources that can be accessed here.  Most recently, HEA has developed a matrix for programme-level evaluation.  QAA Scotland has been involved with the development of this matrix.  At the time of writing, the matrix is being road-tested, prior to a further phase of consultation and then a pilot year in 2017-18.

The HEA also ran a Spotlight project in the winter of the 2016-17 academic session entitled Designing interaction for diverse cohorts

Equality Challenge Unit (ECU)

The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) provides support and resources to HE institutions across the UK (as well as colleges in Scotland), and manages two Equality Charters, applying an evidenced-based and outcomes-focused approach.  The best-known of these Charters is Athena SWAN, which has been in operation since 2005 and has catalysed developments in gender equality in STEM subjects and medicine.  Since May 2015, Athena SWAN has been expanded to include new subject areas (arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law), new staff roles (professional and support staff), and trans people.  At the time of writing, all Scottish institutions are members of the Athena SWAN programme, with the exceptions of the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (which is unsurprising given the Charter’s original STEMM focus).  The University of Edinburgh holds a Silver institutional award, while Bronze institutional awards are held by Aberdeen, Abertay, Dundee, Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, Open University, Queen Margaret University, St Andrews, Stirling and Strathclyde.

The ECU is now inviting applications for its Race Equality Charter.  At the time of writing, Abertay, Edinburgh and St Andrews are members of this programme.

Buttle UK

Similar initiatives aimed at enhancing support for minority student groups include the Buttle UK Quality Mark, which indicates that an institution provides a baseline of support for students who are care-experienced.  This includes a named contact, access to funding, and year-round accommodation.  The Buttle UK Quality Mark was retired in 2015, but is likely to be replaced with a similar scheme.


While there is no charter for LGBT+ equality, Stonewall’s ‘Gay by Degree’ report judges institutions according to ten criteria relating to policy, training, information, events, counselling, and consultation.  The final criterion is membership of Stonewall's Diversity Champions programme.  At the time of writing, the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow are members of this scheme.