Towards an Inclusive Department

Many colleagues across the University will be aware of the University’s Access Agreement responsibilities.  The challenge of evaluating our Access Agreement is huge, with no steer from HEFCE and the complexities presented in the many facets of our Access Agreement work . . .  What form such an evaluation should take was a major headache.

Led by Dr. Mark O’Brien of the Centre for Lifelong Learning, working with Widening Participation champions from across the university as well as Educational Opportunities, the project has led to the development of an approach to evaluation which is at once appreciative and realistic aiming to inform our development as a university at strategic and operational level. The full report is available at, entitled ‘Widening Participation and Fair Access at the University of Liverpool by Dr Mark O’Brien’.

In this blog post I want to focus on the emerging theme of ‘the inclusive department’.  By asking individuals and groups to identify what in their professional experience are the key features of apparently successful departmental activities, and then using rigorous data analysis, drilling down to local level, the evaluator was able to confirm, explain or expand on many such professional insights. The result is a list of features (some of which are found in most areas, while no department would boast all of them).

Evidence of innovation and professional effort

Evidence from interviews and, for example, retention data, suggests that where departments work to include all students in the “life-of-the-subject” by offering enhanced curricula that contribute to a sense of belonging, students are more likely to thrive. For example, the ‘street-law’ project in Law and the Enact project in the Management School. These and other examples go beyond simply including students but are tied in to enhanced employability such as in the School of Psychology‘s Professional Skills in Psychology module. Evidence of the success of professional efforts is demonstrated in improved student retention figures in these and other departments such as the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology where teaching in small groups was introduced to support inclusion.

There isn’t space in a blog post to cover all aspects that might describe the inclusive department.  Other highlights in the report include the introduction of school student support officers, collaboration with relevant external agencies, effective internal collaboration between academics and professional service staff, close engagement with Educational Opportunities teams, the involvement of undergraduates in schools outreach and more.

Much more has emerged from the work of the first phase of the project, most importantly the clear pointers that we can all use to help us to build the kind of inclusive department that everyone wants to be part of.