Research and knowledge exchange

Creating cultural change in universities to promote equality and diversity

Principal Applicant: Dr Alison Phipps (Reader in Sociology, Sociology)

Co-Applicant: Dr Liz McDonnell (Research Fellow, Sociology)

Amount awarded: £12,000

Project dates: May – December 2016

The issue

This project responds to the need within the UK higher education sector for a more in-depth and sustainable approach to equality and diversity.

In 2015 Sajid Javid, the previous Business Secretary, asked Universities UK to convene a sector-wide task force on ‘lad culture’ and violence against women, with a focus on creating cultural change. The issue of bullying and harassment in higher education has also been the subject of much media discussion, as has the shortage of academics from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, particularly at the higher levels, and equality and diversity issues relating to students. The fact that these problems persist despite a number of recent initiatives designed to tackle them (including widening participation programmes and charter mark schemes such as Athena SWAN) suggests that there are cultural issues which are not being addressed.

The research

This project led by Dr Alison Phipps, Reader in Sociology, aims to inspire university staff and managers to work towards cultural change to promote equality and diversity, using an innovative capacity building framework SHAPE (Self-awareness, Honesty, Altruism, Political consciousness, Empathy) and a Grounded Action Inquiry methodology, which puts staff and students at the heart of culture change planning. Developed through research at Imperial College London, CHUCL aims to provide an antidote to neoliberal higher education and to encourage universities to question, and potentially evolve, their deeply held values.

Impact goals

CHUCLThis project is looking to promote and encourage universities to commit to culture change, using a methodology that works and which has the advantage of giving students and staff a leading role in shaping their university cultures.

The team are creating a set of free resources on their capacity building framework (SHAPE) and their innovative Grounded Action Inquiry programme, and will be developing training and offering consultancy to support delivery. The project aims to create a cohort of ‘change agents’ who are networked with each other and who can play a leading role in cultural change within the higher education sector. A policy seminar for second-tier organisations will also be delivered to encourage them to recommend the CHUCL approach.

The team are also seeking to influence organisations that guide Higher Education policy. They have been developing relationships with Universities UK, Research Councils UK (RCUK), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU).

Impact outputs achieved so far

The Changing University Cultures (CHUCL) website contains a variety of resources describing SHAPE and Grounded Action Inquiry, as well as a policy briefing which introduces the methodology. Visit the CHUCL website

The policy briefing was circulated to the Universities UK task force at an event that was held in London on 19th April 2016.

A public report on the original research at Imperial College has now been published: A review of Imperial College’s institutional culture and its impact on gender equality 

The report has recieved broad press coverage in the Daily Mail, The Huffington Post, The Telegraph, Times Higher Education, the Evening Standard, The Tab and The Independent.

Further information

If you would like to know more about this project, please contact Dr Alison Phipps:

Further information on the ESRC IAA SSSIF can be found here. Alternatively please contact Nora Davies, ESRC IAA External Partnerships Project Manager: