Inclusive curriculum design and curriculum co-creation as responses to the HE diversity challenge

A mix of established trends in the HE sector notably widening participation and internationalisation combined with the more recent introduction of a teaching quality audit in the form of the Teaching Excellence Framework has heightened focus on the factors that may underpin retention and attainment gaps between different groups of students in the diverse HE student body. Drawing on the Equality Act 2010, the Department of Education refers specifically to diversity challenges in HE around mature, international, non-white, disabled and widening participation students (DoE, 2017).  Yet it is acknowledged that an approach to engaging with diversity that focuses on individual ‘protected’ characteristics in isolation limits recognition of intersectionality (Ro and Loya 2015).  This post will shed light on how curriculum co-creation is key to addressing the HE diversity challenge.

Universities have become more critically focused on their capacity to deliver inclusive equitable education that ensures all students maximise the outcomes of their educational experience.   Inclusivity is concerned with the practice of academics – those practices that aim to ensure all students feel welcome and are treated in a fair and unbiased way in the classroom and in other situational contexts as part of their university experience. Cagliesi and Ghanei (2019) effectively highlight the distinction between diversity and inclusivity and emphasise the significance of inclusivity for practice by defining diversity as being at the party and inclusivity as ‘being invited to dance’. 

Adopting an inclusive approach to curriculum design is increasingly promoted as a way in which academics could take account of diversity pedagogically and create the feelings of welcome and belonging that underpin student engagement and successful outcomes (Morgan et al. 2011; Dewsbury and Brame 2019).  In this practical approach, the causes of under-representation need to be addressed. Sanger (2020) makes a much-needed distinction between ‘minority’ and ‘minoritized groups’ to highlight the role that structural inequalities in society play in underrepresentation within the student body and to emphasise the need for anticipatory and proactive approaches to inclusive curriculum design. It is this recognition of a need to engage intentionally with difference that led to the development of the Inclusive Curriculum framework at Kingston University and the subsequent adoption of the 10 Recommendations for Creating an Inclusive Curriculum at the University of Greenwich. 

Central to these efforts to maximise attainment is an ideology that identifying, acknowledging and valuing the distinguishing aspects of underrepresented students are important steps in inclusive curriculum design. Context plays an important role in the lens universities and academics use to determine which groups are positioned as under-represented for curriculum purposes. In the STEM disciplines, there is a clear tendency to consider inclusive curriculum design with the underrepresentation of female students and students from ethnic minority backgrounds in mind (Mills and Ayre 2003; Dewsbury and Brame 2019). In Business schools that attract large numbers of Chinese international students, the focus may be on nationality (Reilly et al. 2019).  Outside of these more obvious dimensions, the growing trend to share large modules across different degree programmes introduces a different element to diversity that is not captured in the protected characteristics but poses challenges to academics. Additional differences are found in the disciplinary backgrounds of students, their interests, and the study path that they pursued before enrolling on a module that may or may not be linked to other structural inequalities. It can be argued that students do have different programme identities, which have to be taken into account in inclusive curriculum design in the case of large, shared modules.

While universities may have different approaches to embedding inclusivity, there is a consensus that in all contexts awareness of the nature, needs and expectations of the student body, relationships and dialogue are central to inclusive practice and curriculum design.  One of the means by which inclusive curriculum design and delivery can bring about this awareness, relationships and dialogue is co-creation. In general, this concept is associated with a move towards education democratisation (Bovill et al. 2016) and development of equitable classroom practices (Cook-Sather, 2020). Thus, both inclusivity and co-creation can be seen as two complementary practices linked to the same strategic purpose in a higher education institution.

Research literature (Bovill 2020; Cook-Sather 2019; Dollinger et al. 2018) offers a great variety of definitions of co-creation, and compares and contrasts it with related terms, such as empowerment, engagement, and collaboration. Despite the differences in interpretations of the concept, there is a common view that co-creation manifests a paradigm shift in understanding the purpose of higher education and its methods, and it involves revisiting the traditional roles of students and teachers. However, co-creation does not necessarily mean a direct involvement of students in curriculum design or pushing some of the teachers’ core responsibilities upon students; it would be naïve to assume that students can and should contribute to preparing lectures, identifying key topics, or designing class activities, and deliver all these at the same level of professionalism as trained educators.

In this sense it is important to distinguish co-creation from partnership, which goes beyond sharing some components of curriculum design and developing learning ownership and implies equality in students’ and teachers’ roles (Bovill 2020). Furthermore, co-creation should not be taken as one particular type of practice; in fact, it can take a myriad of forms. For example, the following practices can be seen as illustrations of co-creation: inviting students to discuss a module structure and share ideas on topics that might need to be included in it; offering students an opportunity to come up with their own title for the essay relevant to the subject or take a company of their choice for analysis; encouraging students to share their experiences relevant for the discussed topic and enabling the whole class to gain a better understanding of the concept.

These brief illustrations shed light on the main benefits of co-creation. Enabling students to contribute to the elements of curriculum design, delivery or assessment helps to facilitate their active learning, puts students in charge of gaining relevant knowledge, and boosts their confidence. For educators it is a chance to respond to student needs, find better ways to communicate with them, and establish a healthy classroom environment. Finally, as it gives voice to students and allows them to articulate their individual learning needs, co-creation can be a mechanism for facilitating the inclusive curriculum.

The conceptualisations of co-creation presented in the literature offer quite distinct views depending on the ways the position of a learner is defined, the goals of curriculum co-creation and the extent to which co-creation should be established (Bovill and Woolmer, 2018). In order to conceptualise co-creation and make sense of it, it is important to put it in context. Specifically, co-creation can take different forms if applied in a small or large class; also, the way it is implemented at a module level might differ significantly from that at a programme level; furthermore, the methods of co-creation will depend on the roles assigned to students.

Thus, to address the diversity challenge in HE, it is essential to appreciate the interplay between inclusivity and co-creation. Only by involving students in curriculum design, delivery, and assessment, will universities be able to make all groups of students feel welcome, valued and responsible for their own learning process. In our University funded project, we are exploring the potential for co-creation to enhance inclusivity in large, shared modules taking discipline and programme identities into account. You can find out more about our project here.

Dr Mariya Eranova, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management, Faculty of Business, University of Greenwich

Dr Olufemi Sallyanne Decker, Principal Lecturer in Accounting and Finance, Faculty of Business, University of Greenwich


Bovill, C. (2020). Co-creation in learning and teaching: the case for a whole-class approach in higher education. Higher Education79(6), pp. 1023-1037,

Bovill, C., and Woolmer, C. (2019). How conceptualisations of curriculum in higher education influence student-staff co-creation in and of the curriculum. Higher Education78(3), pp. 407-422,

Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A., Felten, P., Millard, L., and Moore-Cherry, N. (2016). Addressing potential challenges in co-creating learning and teaching: Overcoming resistance, navigating institutional norms and ensuring inclusivity in student–staff partnerships. Higher Education71(2), pp. 195-208,

Cagliesi, G. and Ghanei, M. (2019). Diversity is being at the party,  Inclusiveness is being invited to dance, Presentation at Advance HE Annual Teaching and Learning Conference, Newcastle, available at

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