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Session Overview
22 SES 14 B: Critically (re/de)valuing ‘Diversity’ in Higher Education and Schooling in England, Scotland and Ireland.
Friday, 25/Aug/2023:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Marta da Costa
Session Chair: Karen Pashby
Location: Adam Smith, LT 915 [Floor 9]

Capacity: 50 persons


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22. Research in Higher Education

Critically (re/de)valuing ‘Diversity’ in Higher Education and Schooling in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Chair: Marta da Costa (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Discussant: Karen Pashby (Manchester Metropolitan University)

That ‘diversity’ lends itself to different interpretations, and that there is a mismatch between pronouncements on diversity and its applications, are well documented in the literature (Ahmed, 2012; Wekker et al, 2016; Bhopal and Henderson, 2019). What such critiques centre are the ways in which diversity may be rendered “tangible and operational” (Essanhaji and van Reekum, 2022, p. 883). While such efforts are laudable in their aim to unearth injustices, exclusions and the ways in which these manifest themselves in educational practices and discourses, their analytical potential is somewhat limited. What is called for is a deeper understanding of the ways in which discourses and practices of diversity engage with questions of sameness and difference, nationalism and the futurity of whiteness.

Against the background of the mainstreaming of a set of “xenologies” for “differentiating between human collectivities” (Wolf, 2016, p. 7), in various domains, notably but not exclusively the recent pronouncements on immigration and asylum in the UK, and epistemologies of “white ignorance” (Mills, 2007) as evidenced in the attacks on Critical Race theory by the former UK equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, and the call to include in the curriculum the “benefits” of the British empire, the question of diversity is rendered subservient, politically, to the purported needs of the nation. Conceived of as a homogeneous space, the return of ‘the national’ entails an assimilationist logic that constructs ‘the different’ as defective, one that must be subject to surveillance, disciplined and removed. This symposium draws together and frames interrelated discussions around these themes, while engaging with how whiteness is sustained and invested with the “right to exclude” (Harris, 1993) as well as practices of extraction evidenced by the experiences of “scholars of colour who are called upon to ‘diversify’ the curriculum and workforce” (Sriprakash et al, 2022, p. 45)

This symposium addresses some of ways in which diversity in the Irish, Scottish and English education contexts works to render differences invisible. Khoo’s paper seeks to review the recent institutional emphasis on race and ethnic equality in Irish HE through the lens of critical sociology of race in Ireland. Such analysis throws into sharp relief the ways in which whiteness as an assemblage of strategies, policies and practices constitutes and sustains Irish higher education. Swanson and Gamal’s paper argue that mandating the promoting of “fundamental British values” (FBV) in England’s school recasts the notion of diversity as “the failure of state multiculturalism” (Crawford, 2017) to be replaced by ‘rigid notions of internal uniformity” (Conversi, 2017, p.25). Concomitantly, diversity as a “thin and capacious” construct (Uberoi and McLean 2007, 46) is invested with demonic signifiers that threaten the cohesion of the nation. Coursing through these two papers is a concern with troubling the “exhibition of diversity” which works to center and invibilise differences (Wekker et al, 2016, p. 71). Lord and Oforji’s paper takes as a starting point the ways in which diversity itself has been conceived of in the European educational space. The inherent purported ‘goodness’ of diversity and its instrumentalisation in institutional targets and outcomes hides extractive practices. Lord and Oforji draw on their experiences of working in Scotland, of paying high international student fees and immigration to highlight the extractive intentions of the valorisation of diversity.

Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: Racism and diversity in institution life. Duke University Press.
Bhopal, K., & Henderson, H. (2019). Competing inequalities: Gender versus race in higher education institutions in the UK. Educational Review, 73(2), 153–169.
Conversi, D. (2014) Between the hammer of globalization and the anvil of nationalism: Is Europe’s complex diversity under threat? Ethnicities, 14(1), 25–49

Crawford, C. (2017) Promoting ‘fundamental British values’ in schools: a critical race perspective.  Curriculum  Perspectives, 37, 197–204
Essanhaji, Z., & van Reekum, R. (2022). Following diversity through the university: On knowing and embodying a problem. The Sociological Review, 70(5), 882–900.  
Mills, C (2007). “White Ignorance. In  S. Sullivan & N. Tuana (Eds), Race and epistemologies of ignorance (pp.11-38). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Spriprakash, A., Rudolph, S , & Gerrard, J (2022). Learning whiteness. London: Pluto Press

Uberoi, V. and McLean, I. (2007) Britishness: a role for the state? The Political Quarterly, 78(1), 41-53

Wekker, G, Slootman, M.W, Icaza Garza, R.A, Jansen, H, & Vázquez, R. (2016). Let's do Diversity : report of the University of Amsterdam Diversity Commission. Retrieved from

Wolfe, P. (2016). Traces of history: elementary structures of race. London: Verso


Presentations of the Symposium


Performing Race Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)

Su-ming Khoo (University of Galway, Ireland)

Concerns with race and ethnic equality have ramped up recently in Irish higher education, with the introduction of high-level policies and initiatives to address racial and ethnic disparities and inequalities. New strategic institutional programmes for race equality in HEIs are connected with the strategic work programmes of the national human rights and equality institution, the Higher Education Authority (Kempny and Michaels 2021), and a newly-created Ministry, the Department for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DfHERIS, 2021). Higher education equality initiatives are emerging from under a long shadow, following over a decade of crisis and austerity policies that followed the major financial and economic crisis of 2008. This paper looks at the wider historical, social, political and intellectual context for the development of race equality policies in Irish higher education. It tries to contextualise the rise of institutionalised equality and diversity work in a broader manner, connecting specific Irish developments with global legacies and trends. The paper draws upon several key Irish contributions on the theorising of race and ethnicity and interrogates their relationship (or not) to key questions about equity, diversity and equality in higher education. Notably, considerations of equitable access, participation and success were initially broadly concerned with questions of class (‘socio-economic status’), disadvantage and social mobility, but also came to take on work on the specificities of Irish racism (eg McVeigh, 1992; Garner 2003), with Irish Travellers (Mincéiri) gaining official status as an ethnic minority in 2017 (Pavee Point 2017). How does the advent of institutional race and ethnicity categorisation and monitoring reproduce, repress or redress equality, equity and diversity concerns via a racial or ethnic schema? What does an increased focus on race and ethnicity highlight, promote or stigmatise and what does it occlude? This paper hopes to draw insights from the fields of ignorance studies and questions of undone science (Richardson 2018), as well as theories of race and racialisation, to understand the constitutive role of visibilisation and invisibilisation. It revisits and reviews the new institutional emphasis on race for equality and human rights and as an institutional transformation project through the lens of a critical sociology of race in Ireland (Joseph 2017, cf Bonilla-Silva 1997). In doing so, this paper attempts to visibilise, reflect upon, contextualise and explicate some of the specificities of whiteness that are constitutive of Irish higher education institutions, their strategies, policies and activities.


Bonilla-Silva E (1997) Rethinking Racism: Toward a structural interpretation. American Sociological Review 62(3): 465–480. DfHERIS (2021) Annual Report 2021 - Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DfHERIS) Garner, S (2003) Racism in the Irish Experience, London: Pluto Press Joseph, E (2020) Critical Race Theory and Inequality in the Labour Market: Racial Stratification in Ireland, Manchester, Manchester University Press Joseph, E (2017) Whiteness and racism: Examining the racial order in Ireland, Irish Journal of Sociology 26,1 Kempny, M; Michaels, L (2021) Race Equality in the Higher Education Sector McVeigh, R (1992) The Specificity of Irish Racism, Race and Class 33,4 31-45 Meer, N (2022) The Cruel Optimism of Racial Justice, Bristol: Bristol University Press. Pavee Point (2017) Recognising Traveller Ethnicity Richardson, J (2018) Understanding Eurocentrism as a Problem of Undone Science, in G Bhambra, D Gebrial and K Nisancioglu (eds) Decolonising the University, London: Pluto Press, pp 231-248

Troubling Diversity In The Discourse of British Fundamental Values in Education in England

Mostafa Gamal (Queen Margaret University, UK), Dalene Swanson (Nottingham University, UK)

Recently, a myriad of ‘difficult’ issues have gained prominence both in popular and policy discourses: concerns about immigration, the belief that diverse values threaten national identity and damage ‘social cohesion’, and ‘radicalisation’ in UK society. In the UK, successive governments have embarked on a “civic rebalancing” project (Keddie, 2014, p.540) aimed at creating “a cohesive citizenry” to counter these purported threats. This has entailed two strategies: Firstly, a liberal-nationalist approach to develop “a sense of belonging to and identification with the nation-state” (Vincent, 2018, p. 12) based on the assumption that the fractiousness witnessed in society is caused by a breakdown in patriotic loyalties to the state. To ‘solve’ this ‘problem’, the teaching in schools of “fundamental British values of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs” (DfE 2014) has been institutionally mandated. Secondly, a strategy of the “securitisation of education” was promulgated (Farrell, 2016, p.282). The introduction of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act (2015) placed a duty on teachers to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. A significant corpus of literature has criticised the assumptions that underpin these ‘Fundamental British Values’ (FBV) (Farrell, 2016). Some have questioned why the values are defined as ‘British’ rather than universal (Elton-Chalcraft, 2017). This paper extends some of these critiques by arguing that the notion of “Britishness” advocated for in these values is exclusionary as it is underpinned by an assimilationist logic that declares that loyalty and belonging to the nation is ‘singular’, notably for ‘the common good’. Concomitantly, ‘diversity’ is recast in the discourse of FBV as “failed corrupting plurality” (Gilroy, 2012 p. 384). The promotion of FBV in the curriculum is an “attempt to promote the salience of national boundaries” (Starkey, 2018, p. 159). The reductive effect in the abstracted notion of Britishness implied in significations such as freedom, democracy and equality always anticipates the arrival of the unnamed other as dangerous and ‘a trouble’ to the nation state that is morally beyond reproach, and thus such unnamed other needs to be contained, pacified and assimilated. This speaks to the double entendre in the title of the paper, ‘troubling diversity’. Here, diversity is a concept that is troubling to the state, but it also hints to the idea that this version of reality in respect of ‘diversity’ needs troubling.


Elton-Chalcraft, S., Lander, V., Revell, L., Warner, D. and Whitworth, L. (2017). To promote, or not to promote fundamental British values? Teachers’ standards, diversity and teacher education: British Educational Research Journal, 43, 29-48. Farrell, F. (2016). ‘Why all of a sudden do we need to teach fundamental British values?’ A critical investigation of religious education student teacher positioning within a policy discourse of discipline and control: Journal of Education for Teaching, 42(3), 280-297. Gilroy, P. (2012). ‘My Britain is fuck all’: zombie multiculturalism and the race politics of citizenship: Identities, 19(4), 380-397. Keddie, A. (2014). The politics of Britishness: multiculturalism, schooling and social cohesion: British Educational Research Journal, 40, 539-554. Starkey, H. (2018). Fundamental British Values and citizenship education: tensions between national and global perspectives: Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 100(2). Vincent, C. (2019). Cohesion, citizenship and coherence: schools’ responses to the British values policy: British Journal of Sociology of Education, 40(1), 17-32.

The Commodification of Diversity by European Education: Critical Autoethnographic Accounts of International Students Studying in Scottish Universities

Kat Lord-Watson (Queen Margaret University), Victory Chidinma Oforji (NHS Scotland)

The value of social and cultural diversity in education, as conceptualized by EERA in its 2023 Conference Theme, is described in terms of its ethical and academic value. It is taken as a writ that social and cultural diversity is inherently good, and something for which education and education research must strive. As former Scottish international students become immigrants become Scottish and public sector employees, we agree that ‘the richness of who we are and who we are becoming becomes a source and resource’ but argue against this being in service of ourselves, ‘for what we do and why we do it across the education continuum’ but in service of the education continuum. Ball (2012) argued that education policy was a profit opportunity, with education sold as profitable global and national commodity. His work has since shown how ‘the market, business and commercial sensibilities are colonising and re-forming the meaning and practices of education’ (Ball, 2018, p. 588). We argue this is made explicit by the policy initiatives supported by governments, research institutes, funding bodies, and higher education providers, that advocate for the increasing internationalisation of higher education (Shahjahan, 2016). These initiatives operate through neocolonial practices that celebrate ‘diversity’ while supporting a pattern of global migration from the global south, which ultimately feeds a global workforce that benefits the global north (Spring, 2014). Therefore, we argue the ‘richness’ of who we are has been exploited by Scottish universities, working within a European education sector, that has capitalised on our international student fees and our hopes of immigration into Scotland and England, while continuing to capitalise on our roles as public sector employees responsible for caring for and educating Scots, Brits, and Europeans writ large. We contend it is our economic utility, and the economic value of our social and cultural diversity, that is ultimately sought by the notion and promotion of ‘diversity in education’ within Scottish universities and the wider European education sector. To this end, we challenge the situating of our diversity as an ethical and academic good for European education, arguing social and cultural diversity is sought by Scottish, as well as the wider European higher educations sector, because it financially supports a system that commodifies diversity. We explore the reality of this through autoethnographic accounts of our journeys into, through, and beyond, Scottish universities, informed by critical and creative methodologies discussed by Pruyn and Huerta-Charles (2018).


Ball, S.J. (2012) Global Ed. Inc.: New policy networks and the neoliberal imaginary. London: Routledge. Ball, S.J. (2018) Commericalising education: profiting from reform!, Journal of Education Policy, 33 (5), 587-589. De Lissovoy, N. (2015). Coloniality, Capital, and Critical Education. In De Lissovoy, N. (Ed.). Education and Emancipation in the Neoliberal Era. (pp. 99 – 129).Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Pruyn, M., Cary, L., Huerta-Charles, L. (2018). Performing Teaching, Citizenship and Criticality. In Holman Jones, S., Pruyn, M. (Eds.) Creative Selves / Creative Cultures. Creativity, Education and the Arts. (pp. 37 – 54). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. Shahjahan, R. A. (2016). International Organizations (IOs), Epistemic Tools of Influence, and the Colonial Geopolitics of Knowledge Production in Higher Education Policy. Journal of Education Policy, 31(6), 694–710. Spring, J. (2014). A global workforce: migration and the talent Auction. In Spring, J (Ed.), Globalization of Education: An Introduction (2nd ed.). (pp.188 - 211). Routledge.

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