Decolonising the Curriculum has become a buzzword since the Rhodes Must Fall and Why Is My Curriculum White, and other such excellent movements across universities globally, from South Africa to the UK. It is a relatively young arrival on the academic scene, taking off from about 2015, and really finding momentum from 2020, particularly when Black Lives Matter raised global awareness of ongoing issues of racial discrimination and injustices.

The Start of Keele University’s Journey in Decolonising the Curriculum

Keele is one of the 90+ UK Universities signed up on the Race Equality Charter (REC) and proudly holds a bronze award. To date, no university has won a silver award for race equality and a gold award doesn’t as yet exist. One of the central pillars of our REC commitments is to Decolonise the Curriculum (DTC) at Keele. The intention is to decolonise the curriculums throughout the university, from modular to the program level, and beyond.

In 2020, The Guardian ran an article with the headline, “Only a fifth of UK universities say they are ‘decolonising’ curriculum.” Keele University was amongst one of the 24 (out of 128 universities in the UK) in the UK to have started DTC work. In fact, Keele University has been leading in this area; since 2018, a grassroots student-led movement (supported by some staff and academics) called Decolonising Keele Network (DKN) had already been calling for DTC work. The DKN published a manifesto in 2018, which has been used by universities around the world since, building their own DTC scopes and manifestos too.

Embedding Decolonising the Curriculum Across the University

However, although the DKN was committed and articulate, it was not until 2020 when Keele University’s DTC work was properly embedded throughout the university. The then Pro Vice Chancellor for Advancement & Global Engagement, along with the newly appointed Race Equality Officer, ran a set of widely attended and well received Faculty-level DTC workshops (for the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences) which kick-started the formation of DTC Networks in each of Keele’s 16 Schools. From their inception, the school-level DTC Networks comprised both staff and students (undergraduates and postgraduates). In Keele, we regard our students as curriculum co-creators. To decolonise effectively, we need student input, hence the careful composition of the DTC Network to specifically include and involve students.

In 2021, Keele appointed an Academic Lead for DTC, one of the few universities – not just in the UK, but anywhere in the world – to have such a role dedicated to promoting DTC work. The Faculty-level DTC workshops have continued annually at Keele ever since, recording rapid progress and DTC initiatives, and sharing best practises. At Keele, DTC is being carried out in all areas of teaching and research:

  • Contextualising the disciplines
  • Theoretical and conceptual frameworks
  • Structure and content
  • Case studies, examples, simulations
  • Methods and approaches
  • Delivery
  • Modes of assessment
  • Reading lists and references

The Keele Perspective

In Keele, we take the perspective that we cannot afford not to Decolonise our Curriculums, because not to decolonise is to do all our students and staff a disservice. “We have to decolonize this because it [a colonised curriculum] is deterring students and teachers from a free pursuit of knowledge” (Mbembe, 2016, p.30). Therefore, DTC work is a key part of Keele’s work in its Race Equality Charter to address student attainment gaps and other injustices and inequities.

As Arday puts it, “The monopoly and proliferation of dominant White European canons comprises much of our existing curriculum and consequently impacts adversely on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) learners’ engagement and sense of belonging” (Arday et al., 2020, p1). We want to offer our students the best possible learning experience as well as the best possible chance for personal development in their time at Keele To that end, we must decolonise our curriculum.

At Keele, we understand Decolonising the Curriculum as a subset within Decolonising efforts, or the bigger Decolonising umbrella. Decolonising the Curriculum does not – and cannot – address all social injustices; what it does do is focus on Knowledge. “We inherit a system of knowledges that reinforce colonial dominance” (Pete, 2018, p.181)

DTC discusses how knowledge can be Dominant, Oppressive, and Universal (as opposed to Pluriversal, which is what DTC aims towards). It critiques Knowledge Production, Knowledge Construction, Knowledge Authorisation, and Knowledge Legitimisation. In a nutshell, it addresses the Power which underpins Knowledge, exposing its long-hidden workings, its insidious and non-neutral influences, its agendas, its discriminations and marginalisation. “The centring of Western knowledge transpires at the expense of other knowledge canons which resides outside of the Eurocentric paradigm” (Arday et al., 2020, p.6)

In fact, we recognise that most if not all institutions of higher learning are complicit in colonising knowledge: “Higher education particularly within the West has been designed to facilitate and entrench the power and privilege of the dominant white majority, often at the expense of ethnic minorities that continue to remain on the periphery of the Academy” (Heleta, 2016, cited in Arday et al., 2016).Most disciplines have deep colonial roots and were set up along imperial lines, which have not changed even in this day and age.

Monitoring Progress

Keele’s Schools’ DTC Networks provide annual reports to Keele’s Race Equality Charter Self Assessment Team, to update on progress and demonstrate the DTC work being completed even down to modular levels. At Keele, we interpret DTC as not just a matter of ‘add authors of colour and stir’, but a pedagogical paradigm shift. This involves reframing whole disciplines, interrogating canons, ensuring reading lists are inclusive and representative, and creating innovative and diverse assessments, teaching tools, teaching platforms, and communications. In short, we want to ensure our curriculum is fit for purpose for 21st century world citizens, and which will also make all our students feel included. These curriculums will reflect their real lived experiences, which internationalises their curriculum as well as renders it current and alive.

In Keele, we consider the entire Student Journey from orientation to graduation, and thus DTC is embedded throughout the Student Journey. It starts from Welcome Week, and is built into many if not all modules in all schools and faculties (both explicitly and implicitly, from design to delivery). The journey ends by giving graduating students a final platform (called ‘Provocations’) in which to collaborate with staff to co-create the future curricula, which we in Keele regard as a living and dynamic thing, which would best serve student needs and futures.

In September 2022, Keele has unrolled a new set of modules under its Global Challenges Pathways, 6 strands which will span from 1st, 2nd, and then 3rd and final year of the undergraduate degrees:

  • Social Justice
  • Digital Futures
  • Climate Change and Sustainable Futures
  • Enterprise & the Future of Work
  • Global Health Challenges
  • Languages & Intercultural Awareness

Three developmental strands run through all pathways:

• Digital Fluency

• Employability & Civic Engagement

• Internationalisation

Decolonising the Curriculum is embedded in all 6 pathways, advancing year on year in terms of its application and depth.

The Challenge of Decolonising the Curriculum

DTC work is not done overnight, nor is it something you tick a box and declare finished: it is slow, it builds layer upon layer, slowly reinforcing and developing, painstaking work which will inevitably be uncomfortable, will require all involved to rethink their values and ethics, to self-interrogate and reprioritise. “On the one hand, the re-making of the university urgently needs to unfold; on the other, this remaking needs to patiently unfold over an indefinite period of time” (Schultz et al.,2018, 95, cited in Shahjahan et al., 2021).

DTC work is also self-reflexive, and many academics in Keele are publishing and reflecting on their DTC work whether in classrooms or fieldwork or research. In the summer of 2020, a masters research project was carried out on student perceptions of DTC in Keele, to ensure students’ voices are given a hearing and a space, and this was reported back to the staff in the faculty-level workshops. To ensure the students were kept informed, the DTC work reported in the Faculty workshops was also fed back to the students, keeping the hierarchy of information as lateral and democratic as possible.

Keele’s DTC team also strive for maximum transparency, and after carrying out data collection with all 16 schools, recording qualitatively and quantitatively the progress of each school’s DTC work in 2021-22 and its impacts, the report and analyses are being shared with the University Education Committee, the Race Equality Charter Self Assessment Team, Equality and Diversity Oversight and Steering Groups, Student Union Officers, and any other parties with a vested interest in Keele’s DTC.

In the Faculty-level workshops, the following ideas and initiatives carried out in 2021-22 were reported and collated; we share the list below, hoping to provide inspiration and ideas for all those others who are also decolonising their curriculums, and of course, thank the giants on whose shoulders we stand, and from whom we ourselves have drawn inspiration and ideas:

Staff focused:

  • school-level survey of students (satisfaction/engagement)
  • creating school’s DTC Terms of References
  • school-level DTC workshops for staff
  • school-specific DTC repository
  • school-specific DTC toolkit
  • school-level DTC Induction at the start of the academic year
  • raising awareness of the colonialist roots of the discipline
  • considering the appropriateness of terminology
  • amendment of reading lists
  • amendment/addition of case studies/scenarios to be more inclusive/representative
  • Amendment of assessment methods to be more inclusive and equitable

Student Focused:

  • reviewing for bias in the module content
  • collating best practise from other universities
  • DTC mentoring
  • students as DTC network leads or co-leads
  • students receiving course accreditation for DTC-related activities
  • role modelling for students (including from externals)
  • sharing lived experiences sessions (plenaries, workshops, cultural communications events)
  • DTC-related assessments (e.g. DTC lit reviews, DTC presentations to peers, etc)
  • DTC feedback portal for students’ comments
  • school-level DTC Induction at the start of the academic year

Working Beyond Keele to Decolonise the Curriculum

Keele’s DTC plans have a twin structure, which is to say we have plans both within Keele and beyond Keele. We want to make Keele a hub for DTC work, both teaching and research,  possibly within academia as well as beyond academia. To this end, we engage with externals; other UK universities, and international universities. To date, Keele’s DTC team has placed itself on the world stage by giving lectures, presentations and workshops internationally. These were attended by universities in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and the Middle East, and even by the World Bank.

We offer discussion and training to academics as well as experts in any and all fields who are also interested in DTC, particularly those who are also just beginning their DTC journeys. We believe dialogue and collaboration are the hallmarks of good DTC practise. To uphold this, we are building wide and inclusive networks to share and learn and provide mutual support. We also of course hugely welcome reciprocity and the chance to engage with colleagues and learn more.

What is Keele’s Next Step in Decolonising the Curriculum?

Many Keele staff have been researching and publishing prolifically in DTC-related work, and actively promoting collaboration across universities, countries, and  disciplines, here are a few links below to just some of these publications from 2020 onwards:

  • Workman, S.C., Thompson, M.C. and Lau, L. (2023) Decolonising Medical Knowledge – the case of breast cancer and ethnicity in the UK. Journal of Cancer Policy. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcpo.2022.100365
  • Aneta Hayes, Sylvie Lomer & Sophia Hayat Taha (2022) Epistemological process towards decolonial praxis and epistemic inequality of an international student, Educational Review, DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2022.2115463
  • Mendes, A.C., and Lau, L . (2022) Wither the plurality of decolonising the curriculum? Safe spaces and identitarian politics in the arts and humanities classroom. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 21 (3). pp. 223-239.
  • Lukšaitė, E , Fricker, RA , McKinley, RK  and Dikomitis, L  (2022) Conceptualising and teaching biomedical uncertainty to medical students: an exploratory qualitative study. Medical Science Educator.
  • Rogers, S.L , Lau, L , Dowey, N, Sheikh, H and Williams, R (2022) Geology uprooted! Decolonising the curriculum for geologists. Geoscience Communication, 5 (3). 189 – 204.  
  • Aneta Hayes, Kathy Luckett & Greg Misiaszek (2021) Possibilities and complexities of decolonising higher education: critical perspectives on praxis, Teaching in Higher Education, 26:7-8, 887-901, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2021.1971384
  • Polidano, K, Parton, L, Agampodi, S, Agampodi, T, Haileselassie, B, Lalani, J, Mota, C, Price, HP , Rodrigues, S, Tafere, G, Trad, L, Zerihun, Z and Dikomitis, L  (2022) Community engagement in cutaneous leishmaniasis research in Brazil, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka: a decolonial approach for global health. Frontiers in Public Health, 10.
  • Farzana Shain, Ümit Kemal Yıldız, Veronica Poku & Bulent Gokay (2021) From silence to ‘strategic advancement’: institutional responses to ‘decolonising’ in higher education in England, Teaching in Higher Education, 26:7-8, 920-936, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2021.1976749
  • McKay, D. (2021) Towards framing the global in Global Development: prospects for development geography. Area. 54 (2): 185-194.
  • Green, J. (2020) Decolonising wound care teaching. British Journal of Community Nursing, 25 (9).

Keele University recognises that not only curricula but research too, must be decolonised. And Keele University’s Library is also beginning its journey towards considering how to decolonise, joining the excellent efforts which have already been initiated by the British Library, and other universities libraries like Cambridge, LSE, SOAS, and others. Libraries, afterall, lie at the heart of universities, are deeply invested and involved in epistemological classifications, catalogues, and collections, and must therefore be an integral part of the decolonising movement.

It is to be hoped that more and more UK universities will start to decolonise their curriculums, particularly given the role of the British Empire as a coloniser and imperialiser, and the UK’s proud tradition of leading freedom movements such as ending slavery. Many higher education systems around the world still look to UK Higher Education as a beacon and inspiration, and we would do well in leading the way to addressing coloniality in knowledge production, epistemology, and higher education. By Decolonising our Curriculums, we will create a higher education experience that serves not just the academic community better, but with knock-on effects, will serve the world better.

Arday, Jason, Dina Zoe Belluigi & Dave Thomas (2020) “Attempting to break the chain: reimaging inclusive pedagogy and decolonising the curriculum within the academy,” Educational Philosophy and Theory, 53 (3): 298-313.

Mbembe, Achille Joseph, (2016) “Decolonizing the university: New Directions,” Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, 15 (1): 29–45.

Pete, Shauneen (2018) “Chapter 10 – Meschachakanis, a Coyote Narrative: Decolonising Higher Education”, pp 173-189, in Bhambra, Gurminder K., Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nişancıoğlu (eds) Decolonising the University, Pluto Press, London.

Shahjahan, Riyad A., Annabelle L. Estera, and Kristen L. Surla (2021) Decolonizing” Curriculum and Pedagogy: A Comparative Review Across Disciplines and Global Higher Education Contexts”, Review of Educational Research, 92 (1): 73-113.

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Decolonising the curriculum is a key aspect of diversifying the curriculum in universities. Hinna Sheikh, Race Equality Officer and Dr Lisa Lau, BAME Staff Network Co-Lead at Keele University discuss the challenges the university has faced in decolonising the curriculum and the journey. They share guidance for other university staff and institutions who are also working to diversify curriculums.

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