How are HEIs addressing inequality in arts and creative curriculum? Blog post 1.

August 23, 2023

This blog has been kindly provided by Dr Annette Naudin and Dr Karen Patel

Dr Karen Patel

Karen is a Research Fellow based at the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR), Birmingham School of Media. Karen is also Director of the Centre for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts (CEDIA) in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media.

Dr Annette Naudin

Annette is Associate Professor Academic, with responsibility for Learning and Teaching at Birmingham Institute for Media and English. Annette is a member of the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR), Birmingham School of Media.

Higher education has been grappling with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) for a number of years, but there is a lack of research exploring subject specific approaches to addressing this through curriculum development. Although there is a breadth of research exploring EDI in the cultural and creative sectors, how does that translate into practice-based Art, Design, and Media curriculum? Furthermore, we know that creative curriculum in schools is under threat (Ashton and Ashton, 2019) and unequal access to arts education will exacerbate the problem. The covid-19 pandemic has further problematised the cultural and creative industries, demonstrating its vulnerability and exacerbating underlying inequalities (Banks and O’Connor, 2021; Comunian and England, 2020).

There are ad hoc examples of good practice, including CHEAD’s contribution through the CHEAD EDI Alliance, but we suggest a need to: a) research and scrutinise current practices; and b) to share knowledge and expertise. As the final report from the Creative PEC’s Good Work Review states there is often a high price to pay for working in the cultural and creative industries, but there is also an opportunity to build capacity and resilience (Carey, Giles and O’Brien, 2023) through educational provision.

In Art and Design courses, while educators acknowledge inequalities, there is relatively little engagement with the critical debates, issues of power and knowledge, such as those found in media and cultural studies (Orr and Shreeve, 2017). The language and codes found in artistic practices are often articulated in more abstract terms which can embody diverse and intellectually challenging concepts, but these are usually within socially accepted boundaries, relying on a form of tacit knowledge which underpins the learning environment. This form of implicit knowledge tends to preserve and promote a community of practice framed by a set of values, codes and signals (Orr and Shreeve, 2017), often reinforced by creative educationalists (Taylor and Littleton, 2013) but not immediately accessible to students from diverse backgrounds.

At our own institution, Birmingham City University (BCU), we have worked with students to help us address EDI in the arts faculty. The Centre for Equality Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts (CEDIA), led by Dr Karen Patel, brings together BCU staff, students and local creative practitioners. CEDIA is a critical voice and advocate for equity in the arts and higher education, which aims to raise greater awareness of inequalities in the sector and take action to enact meaningful change.

One of the regular projects is the yearly cohort of CEDIA student consultants (a paid role), who review samples of course content through an EDI lens, as part of a wider Faculty project on decolonising the curriculum. The student consultants also offer their own thoughts and suggestions and make recommendations on future curriculum, and what could be done to ensure content is representative and contextualised. For example, some of the students identified suggested readings which were known as ‘classic’ texts, but which contained offensive or triggering content. The students suggested that such content needs to be appropriately contextualised, and the inclusion in the course needs to be justified by tutors.

The methods and approach taken by the student consultants will be developed and refined for the next cohort of students working with CEDIA. So far, feedback from the CEDIA student consultants and their involvement in a range of projects and discussions, is positive. Many of them describe feeling empowered to be taking a critical look at their courses, contributing towards work on, for example, decolonising the curriculum, and ensuring a greater diversity of sources and perspectives in art, design, and media curricula.

These are emerging findings, but we suggest that this approach begins the process of challenging inequalities in practice-based art, design and media curriculum, by drawing on the combined knowledge and perspectives of educators, students, and creative practitioners. As a faculty wide intervention, CEDIA can have a more strategic impact while being rooted in questions and concerns specific to the creative sector.

In the next post we will elaborate more on the findings from this research, but we are interested in exploring other methods for student-led research on EDI in art, design and media courses. How can art students feel empowered in EDI work, and how can we ensure that there are no power imbalances? How are colleagues designing learning environments to avoid inequalities of access to a creative education?


Ashton, H. & Ashton, D. (2019) Creativity and the curriculum: educational apartheid in 21st Century England, a European outlier? International Journal of Cultural Policy, 29(4), 484-499.

Banks, M., & O’Connor, J. (2021). “A plague upon your howling”: art and culture in the viral emergency. Cultural trends, 30(1), 3-18.

Carey, H. Giles, L. & O’Brien, D. (2023). Job quality in the Creative Industries: the final report from the PEC’s Good Work Review available from

Comunian, R., & England, L. (2020). Creative and cultural work without filters: Covid-19 and exposed precarity in the creative economy. Cultural Trends, 29(2), 112-128.

Orr, S. & Shreeve, A. (2017). Art and design pedagogy in higher education: knowledge, values and ambiguity in the creative curriculum. Routledge.

Taylor, S. & Littleton, K. (2013). Negotiating a contemporary creative identity. In: Ashton, Daniel and Noonan, Catriona eds. Cultural Work and Higher Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp.154-171.


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