The QAA Collaborative Cluster on ‘Decolonising the Curriculum in a Time of Pandemic’ launches on 16th February. In this blog, Alex Buckley and Rosemarie McIlwhan, Assistant Professors in the Learning and Teaching Academy, outline what decolonising the curriculum means and discuss the work of the cluster.
There is increasing attention on the relationships between higher education in the UK (and the West more broadly) and the country’s colonial past: how higher education contributed to colonialism, and how it benefited (and continues to benefit) from colonialism. There is increasing concern that while the decolonisation of nations has been achieved, intellectual decolonisation and the decolonisation of institutions has not gone far enough.
There have been campaigns about the visible remnants of colonialism in our universities (‘Rhodes Must Fall’), as well as the diversity of the sources used in teaching (‘Why Is My Curriculum White). These (often student-led) protests are attempts – the proponents say – to address the visible symbols of oppression and racism that contribute to alienating non-White students from higher education and non-White voices within the academy.
Focus on these issues has been further heightened through the Black Lives Matter movement and the focus on tackling institutional, systemic racism across all area of life, including universities.
Decolonisation of the University
One strand in the decolonisation movement is Decolonisation of the University, which is aimed at addressing the ways in which universities as institutions perpetuate colonial ideas; through giving prominence to particular individuals or ideas through statues, names and scholarship schemes, through the ways that they still benefit from the financial proceeds of colonialism, or through ways that the structures and processes of the institution discriminate against BME individuals.
Decolonising the university requires reflection by the leaders and members of an institution on the historical role of the university in colonial and imperial endeavours, the messages that it sends in the present, and how it contributes to systematic racial discrimination.
Decolonisation of the Curriculum
Another strand of the decolonisation movement is Decolonisation of the Curriculum, which is motivated by the idea that while colonial ideas about racial hierarchies and the superiority of Western civilisation have been explicitly repudiated, disciplines are still largely dominated by white (often male and wealthy) individuals, whose experiences and concerns dominate. As a result, in promoting certain subjects and methods of study, disciplines continue to promote the superiority of particular ideas.
In order to address the intellectual legacy of colonialism, academics need to broaden their curricula to include disciplinary voices beyond the traditional mainstays of White, Western, wealthy men. However, they also need to include explicit discussion of the history of the discipline, how it has been shaped by the privilege of the prominent figures, and how it influenced – and was influenced by – colonial and imperial enterprises. It is not just about bringing in new texts, but in thinking critically about how we read and engage with ‘traditional’ texts and how we teach.
Decolonisation – of the University or the Curriculum – means more than increasing the diversity of staff, students and reading lists. It requires a wholesale effort to reveal and challenge the different ways that the intellectual legacies of colonialism affect what is taught and how, what is researched and how, and how institutions of higher education function internally and present themselves externally.
The QAA Collaborative Cluster on ‘Decolonising the curriculum’
The collaborative cluster focused on Decolonising the Curriculum in a Time of Pandemic aims to work with staff and students to expand and deepen sector-wide understanding of what decolonising the curriculum means in practice. It provides an opportunity to come together to share and learn from one another, to discuss what works and what more we can do as individuals and as a learning community to support the decolonising process. The launch workshop on 16th February presents a valuable opportunity to:
- Learn about what is going on elsewhere in the sector and enhance our thinking and practices;
- Shape a diverse, Scotland-wide, inter-institutional network exploring what decolonising the curriculum looks like in (post-)pandemic times.
Two further workshops are planned for Spring 2021.
The Heriot-Watt lead for the Decolonising the Curriculum Collaborative Cluster is Rosemarie McIlwhan. If you are interested in being involved contact her for further information.
Abou El Magd, N. (2016) Why is My Curriculum White? – Decolonising the Academy. NUSConnect blog, 9 February 2016. Available at: https://www.nusconnect.org.uk/articles/why-is-my-curriculum-white-decolonising-the-academy
Emejulu, A. (2019) ‘Can Political Science Decolonise? A Response to Neema Begum and Rima Saini’, Political Studies Review, 17(2), pp. 202–206. doi: 10.1177/1478929918808999.
Karodia, N. (2020) ‘Weaving people and history into STEM education’, AdvanceHE blog, 8 January 2020. Available at: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/Weaving-people-and-history-into-STEM-education
Peters M.A. (2018) Why Is My Curriculum White? A Brief Genealogy of Resistance. In: Arday J., Mirza H. (eds) Dismantling Race in Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60261-5_14
UCL (2014) Why is my curriculum white? 11 November 2014. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch/Dscx4h2l-Pk