Nous supports University of Kent with advancing anti-racism

21 April 2022 4 min. read

With more and more institutions looking to address racial inequalities within their organisations, many are turning to consulting firms to support the process. When the University of Kent identified disparities for staff and students across its bodies, it tapped Nous Group for advice.

Granted chartered status in 1965, the University of Kent is a public research university. Its main campus, north of Canterbury, houses over 6,000 students, while it also boasts sites in Medway and Tonbridge in Kent, alongside European postgraduate centres in Brussels, Athens, Rome and Paris.

In recent years, organisations have been stepping up their efforts to combat racial discrimination and bias across their operations – partially in response to the rise to prominence of Black Lives Matter, but also due to the increasing importance of ESG matters to investors.

Nous supports University of Kent with advancing anti-racism

Universities have been no exception to this; and the process was catalysed in 2021 by a BBC documentary titles ‘Are Unis Racist?’

Issuing comment after the film’s airing on national television, the University of Kent stated it had “highlighted powerful and deeply troubling examples of students experiencing systemic racism” within higher education in Britain. The statement added that the university “fully acknowledge the justified hurt and anger behind the issues raised in the programme,” and recognised that “we, both as an institution and a wider sector, are institutionally racist and need to do more to tackle this.”

Following this statement, the University of Kent identified the need to address the racial inequalities for both staff and students that were evident across the institution. With many members of Kent’s community actively advocating for new policies, and pockets of grassroots good practice across the university, the prospects of a campaign for change were obvious. However, the route to setting strategic direction was unclear, and this soon left the university community feeling little action had taken place.

The university needed a strategy to support a culture shift that would tackle issues of structural racism. In its search for this, it turned to Nous Group for support.

Planning for change

Working in 11 locations across the UK, Canada and Australia, Nous Group supports education, health, government and social care sectors to ensure a better future. The firm offers a broad consulting capability that helps client to solve the most complex strategic challenges facing them, with Nous partnering with clients through transformational change.

During the pandemic, for example, Nous helped Coventry University move services online amid the lockdown months, before producing a report which is now being used as a base for the institution’s rearticulated 2030 values. Meanwhile, another case noted on the firm’s website saw Nous support a university’s senior leaders, to design a new Head of Equity and Inclusion position, and to establish organisational change principles to reduce inequity.

Drawing on these past experiences, the Nous team worked in close partnership with the University of Kent’s leadership, and a reference group comprising members from across the university and Kent Union.

First, this saw Nous review outcomes data, to better understand issues for racially minoritised staff and students. Then, its consultants worked with the reference group and other university staff through interviews, looking to understand which underlying issues contributed to race inequalities on campus.

Finally, Nous facilitated workshops with the reference group, helping to develop a new anti-racism strategy; complete with a vision, objectives and detailed actions.

During the process, Nous identified four core themes. Simply promoting equality of opportunity would not be enough. The strategy needed a broader scope to tackle the barriers created by structural racism. The university’s senior leaders needed to be accountable according to how well changes were implemented. And beyond the initial goals, progressing anti-racism would need constant action in a changing context.

Combining these factors into a coherent plan meant that Kent is now one of the few universities in the UK with a defined strategy to advance anti-racism. The executives are all committed to its success and have been assigned responsibility for delivering their relevant objectives. Meanwhile, it has longer-term aims to act as an advocate for anti-racism beyond the walls of its campuses – both locally and globally.

Georgina Randsley de Moura, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Strategy, Planning, and Performance, University of Kent, noted, “Nous was the critical external eye we needed to surface our structures and practices that are embedding racial inequality. They provided a framework for the work needed to enable colleagues and students to unlock a shared vision appropriate for Kent.”