Evaluating the institutionalisation of diversity outreach in top universities worldwide
Evaluating the institutionalisation of diversity outreach in top universities worldwide
Mariana Buenestado-Fern a?ndezID 0 1
Jos e? Luis A? lvarez-CastilloID? 0 1
Hugo Gonza? lez- Gonz a?lezID? 0 1
Luis Espino-D??azID? 0 1
0 Editor: Stefano Federici, Universita? degli Studi di Perugia , ITALY
1 Department of Education, Faculty of Education Sciences, University of Cordoba , Cordoba , Spain
The participation of diverse demographics in higher education has risen over the last halfcentury; meanwhile, different political and social tiers have been assigning a more active role to institutions in terms of equality and social justice. This change in circumstances has led to the roll out of processes to institutionalise diversity outreach. This study was conducted for the clear purpose of assessing the current institutionalisation status of diversity outreach in 127 key universities from the Academic Ranking of World Universities based on the opinions of diversity outreach managers and the information published on institutional websites, in turn measuring compliance with various indicators. A qualitative analysis of the institutional statements, the goals sought through strategic plans and the definitions of diversity itself was also conducted. The evidence reveals the early stage of the institutionalisation process in universities on account of the low percentage obtained for the proposed indicators. Furthermore, the study failed to exhibit significant differences in this process in terms of the institutional ownership or position held in the ranking; however, more prominent progress was noted in the North-American region when geographical differences were taken into account, likely as a result of the historical background in the advocacy for equal opportunities. Lastly, a change of approach to the conceptualisation of diversity is suggested in favour of equality and social justice.
Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are
within the manuscript and its Supporting
Funding: This study was supported by the Spain?s
Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities,
State Plan for R&D (Grant number
EDU201782862-R). The funders had no role in study design,
data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or
preparation of the manuscript.
In the last half-century, higher education has been considered a key factor in economic
prosperity and social well-being thanks to the dissemination of knowledge in the interest of
securing sustainable human development [
]. In this regard, the radical expansion of higher
education systems worldwide has led to the participation of larger demographics, even in
lowincome countries [
]. Thus, in more advanced societies, globalisation, the demographic shift
and accomplishments in social justice have expanded the scope in which people differ within
organisations in relation to how it was only several decades ago [
]. In reference to the
traditional approach to diversity that registers primary factors including race or ethnicity, gender
or age [
], it is clear how the differences are increasingly more prominent in universities: the
Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
number of students from ethnic minorities who embark on higher education studies
progressively increases, such as the case of indigenous peoples in Latin American countries, whose
participation rises 1% annually [
], or the number of black and Hispanic students in the
United States, which increased from 10% to 14% and from 4% to 17% respectively between
1976 and 2014 [
]; the enrolment rate of women in higher education institutions has increased
twice as more as that of men in the last four decades [
]; and an increase of 26% to 35% is
estimated for the 25?64 year old demographic in higher education between 2005 and 2025 in
OECD countries on the whole due to the promotion of lifelong learning and the increase in
life expectancy [
Comparative higher education in terms of diversity regulation
The inclusion of diversity in development policies and plans in higher education varies
depending on the context or region of the world. In the United States, the mitigation of
differences dates back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s [
] with the approval of important
regulations?i.e., the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and executive orders about affirmative action?,
or even to previous steps, as the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution
in 1868 and 1870, respectively, or the 2nd Morril Act that promoted the creation of the
Historically Black Colleges and Universities in 1890 [
]. As a result of this sociological phenomenon,
programs were put in place seeking enforcement of these rights on universities campuses [
]. Although diversity has historical roots in equality policies, especially those aimed at race
and ethnic minorities, American and Canadian universities have integrated other differences
that lead to inequalities in their endeavours, such as the socio-economic status or educational
level of parents, thus promoting the term ?inclusive excellence? .
In the European context, the reference to equal opportunities or social justice stems from
transnational policy guidance. The European higher education policies developed a social
dimension following the initial developments of the European Higher Education Area in 1998,
which called for collective access, placing an emphasis on groups that had been
under-represented thus far. In particular, gender and disability are the criteria for heterogeneity on which
inclusive efforts have largely focused [
], although the European Commission, that promotes
equity and inclusion through the Erasmus+ Programme, also considers criteria such as
educational difficulties, economic limitations, cultural differences, health problems, social barriers
and geographical obstacles [
]. Thus, as a result of a project co-funded by the European
Commission, Dovigo and Casanova [
] report a collection of institutional policies and good
practices carried out in higher education systems and universities of six European and four
nonEuropean countries. The considerable array of practices in a good number of domains and
groups (e.g., scholarships for asylum seekers, curricular adaptations and peer tutoring services
for students with disabilities, support services for parent students, promotion of volunteering
and active solidarity, financial support for students from low income backgrounds, strategies
to ensure access to the university for disadvantaged students, training programmes in
inclusion) suggests that the culture of diversity could be spreading over Europe.
Likewise, the Tuning project [
], which is also rolled out in Latin America, considers a
paradigm focused on students and highlights the celebration of diversity as a generic competence.
In Latin American countries, civil society organizations have played an important role in
promoting public policies on inclusive education in higher education. Groups and sectors of the
original population that have historically been excluded and marginalized from education
systems have organized themselves into movements (black movements, landless peasants,
indigenous communities) to claim diversity as an expression of humanity and to fight for changes in
social models and models of inclusion and equity in higher education [
]. Public policies
2 / 19
have also been influenced by regional agreements. Specifically, the Declaration of the III
Regional Conference on Higher Education for Latin America and the Caribbean held in 2018
assumed as a specific objective to ensure an inclusive, equitable and quality education. The
historical, social and political diversity of national contexts has led to different initiatives in each
country for the promotion of diversity. It must be also pointed that networks of institutions
and students interested in the progressive consolidation of an inclusive higher education both
in national areas (Colombian Network of Institutions of Higher Education for Disability or
the Interuniversity Commission on Disability and Human Rights of Argentina, among others)
and at a Latin American level (Latin American and Caribbean Interuniversity Network on
Disability and Human Rights) have been created, making possible the opening of spaces for
participation, research, exchange and dissemination of knowledge and inclusion practices [
Also, the boost of several socio-economic indicators at the start of the 21st century facilitated
the incorporation of the indigenous culture in higher education institutions and the
continuous pursuit for alternatives to achieve a higher calibre of education and the promotion of a
fairer and more equal society [
]. This positive context is conducive to greater
commitment from countries to inclusivity within educational systems , whereby specific projects
are conceived including the Measures for Social Inclusion and Equality in Higher Education
Institutions in Latin America. An example of university social responsibility in Latin America
is the Pathways program that serves indigenous students from Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru
Meanwhile, public policies in Asia have been focused on boosting economic growth
through higher education, seeking the most exceptional students to this effect. That said,
students from ethnic minorities or rural areas who suffer socio-economic hardships are
underrepresented, thus challenging higher education institutions to tackle the issue of equality .
The state of affairs is different in Oceania. In particular, Australian universities have
traditionally demonstrated a firm commitment to equality on the basis of national policies [
1988, the national higher education policy focused on equality following the publication of the
White Paper Higher Education: A Policy Statement, explicitly stating the need to "change the
balance of the student body to reflect more closely the structure and composition of society as
a whole" [
]. On that basis, improvements were noted in the access and participation of
several groups that to that point were under-represented, such as women, people with disabilities
or those who speak a language other than English [
]. In 2009, in response to The Bradley
], the Government drew up a new agenda with a focus on equal participation in
higher education, especially from groups on which past action had been less effective, such as
those with a low socio-economic status, indigenous peoples or residents in rural areas [
Subsequently, in 2015, the Higher Education Participation Program was approved, allocating
funding to higher education institutions for the purpose of making important changes in the
interest of achieving equality, diversity and inclusion.
Lastly, in Africa, the access to higher education is regarded as a privilege for few, thus
reinforcing inequality in society with the exclusion of different students in terms of disability,
ethnicity or race, culture, language or rural background [
]. In particular, less than 1% of people
with a disability can access higher education [
]. Even in countries like South Africa, relevant
race, gender and economic inequalities persist after a quarter of a century of anti-apartheid era
From economic logic to inclusion
Stepping back from a simplistic stance on diversity that gives a nod to the natural state of
being and, thus, to differences between some individuals and others with regard to the
above3 / 19
mentioned characteristics, the concept of diversity embraces a broader spectrum that includes
all of the ways in which people can differ [such as nationality, culture, religion, disability,
sexual orientation, socio-economic status, language or learning styles] from an intersectional
]. However, Wentling and Palma-Rivas  sustain the idea that the concept of
diversity can never capture the broad range of differences between some individuals and
others. As a result, professionals should not solely focus on quantifying these factors, since
diversity also encompasses many ways of grasping reality and acting accordingly.
One of the greatest concerns is the approach taken by higher education institutions to
conceptualise the term ?diversity?, since it conveys their stance and influences the type of actions
that are taken. There are mainly two juxtaposing viewpoints: one based on economic logic,
and the other on social justice.
From the economic perspective, it is believed that neoliberal politics have instilled a
commercial or corporate approach into the culture of higher education institutions [
Universities have become an educational and social project whilst catering to economic needs and
]. This university model calls for an elitist concept of knowledge under the logic of
profitability and labour market demands. The term ?diversity? or ?diversity management? in
higher education has been introduced from a commercial perspective based on the
acknowledgment of difference or forms of representation, but without the implicit commitment to
social justice [
]. Diversity is seen as a benefit for the national economy in the sense that it
trains traditionally excluded groups [which may be women or ethnic minorities] in certain
professions to later boost national productivity and competitiveness [
]. Initiatives based
solely on increasing the heterogeneity of the student body and the celebration of diversity
through ethnic festivals are examples of this stance that masks prevalent inequalities and
], as is the case with the interaction of social class and culture [
] or the lack
of attention to power and resources among racial/ethnic groups .
However, within the framework of social justice, the term diversity is linked to the solid
commitment of the institution to address inequalities. The aim is to focus on identifying the
attributes that lead to discrimination within higher education institutions and, consequently,
developing timely actions to secure a level playing field with other people [
]. From this
standpoint, the term diversity is closely linked to equality. In this regard, Ahmed  believes
that the term diversity has been used strategically by professionals as a solution to what has
been known as "equity fatigue" or the vain attempt to wipe out inequalities. As such, it becomes
associated with something new, once again highlighting the capacity for action by institutions
to achieve equality.
Despite the fact that economic logic is the predominant rhetoric of diversity in higher
education institutions [
], the link between the concept of diversity and equality and social justice
could help facilitate progress in the exploration of exclusion processes intrinsic to academic
institutions. That said, this endeavour does not automatically open up inclusive processes [
Hence the commitment to the paradigm of inclusion in response to diversity, which would
comprise four fundamental issues [
]: it is a process; it focuses on identifying and breaking
down barriers; it entails the presence, participation and progress of the entire student body;
and it places a special focus on groups of students at risk of marginalisation, exclusion of
On the other hand, the eagerness to secure diversity among the student body diverts
attention from the heterogeneous profile of the faculty and administrative and service staff [
other words, the complexity of the term diversity is intensified with the variety of people and
spaces involved in higher education [
]. In this regard, the perspective of gender in both
collectives is one of the most investigated topics in the research field [
4 / 19
The institutionalisation of diversity outreach in higher education. Focusing on internal
initiatives and the social justice model, the success of the term diversity largely depends on the
level of commitment or framework of action chosen by the decision makers within academic
]. This, in turn, is subordinate to the utopian image they have of university
. Thus, it is pertinent to ask ourselves how we know if an institution is truly committed to
diversity outreach within the framework of inclusive education, i.e., if it supports a discourse
of transformation beyond a discourse of preservation [
In a pre-university educational context, the Index for Inclusion developed by professors
Booth and Ainscow [
] is the self-assessment tool for inclusive processes in education centres
with a greater international impact, although its validation in higher education has not yet
been as successful as expected [
]. That said, there are higher education references in
literature that propose dimensions or criteria to facilitate internal assessment and help plan
initiatives that enable the institutional commitment to diversity outreach to materialise. The key
differences between some proposals and others refer to the application, recipients, terminology
used, and the context in which the criteria are identified, as seen in Table 1.
Insofar as the context is concerned, the criteria are established through meetings held by
university committees [
], through those used by European and North American agencies
that evaluate the quality of diversity [
], through literature review [
], through programs
aimed at implementing inclusive policies and practices in higher education institutions [
or by adapting other institutionalisation evaluation instruments [
Despite these differences, the studies mentioned share criteria that are conducive to
institutionalisation. These include the addition of terminology to the mission or statement of the
institution; the attribution of responsibility to someone who is a part of the senior
management team within the institution; the creation of a formal body; the implementation of a
strategic plan; integration across the organisational culture; the evaluation of progress and the
adoption of improvement measures; the pairing with research agendas; specific initiatives
linked to each one of the collectives comprising the university community; the curriculum,
training and innovation.
According to Lloyd, Ordorika, & Rodr??guez-Go?mez [
], there are limitations and biases in
the evaluation indicators of the international rankings. These are based on a university model:
the elite research university. The student training, dissemination of culture, and attention to
various responsibilities and commitments to society, are virtually absent from the rankings.
5 / 19
Social responsibility in diversity outreach with regard to these institutionalisation criteria is
required from both entities with an average or low selective profile and those that are
considered extremely selective or elite. Notably in relation to the latter, tensions emerge due to their
determination to preserve an economic model based on meritocratic principles and
competitiveness. Despite this, the moment diversity outreach becomes synonymous with the meanings
of excellence, the more selective universities will likely be more welcoming of the idea to
combine the commitment to disadvantaged students with the intent to preserve their prestigious
The study itself focuses on a sample of the best universities from around the world,
according to the indicators used in developing what is known as the Shanghai ranking, and it is
essentially aimed at exploring the processes to institutionalise diversity outreach in these
universities. Thus, the basic research question addressed in the study is as follows: To what extent
do the best world universities fulfil institutionalisation indicators in the area of diversity?
Some expectancies could also be derived from the literature. If neoliberalism monopolises
diversity practices, the best ranked universities and private institutions might fulfil more
diversity indicators than low-ranked and public universities, respectively. A longer tradition in
diversity advocacy, as is the case of the US, might also represent an advantage concerning the
current diversity status of higher education institutions.
A mixed method design was chosen, combining quantitative and qualitative approaches. On
the one hand, a rationalist approach was selected with the intention to empirically quantify the
degree of institutionalisation of diversity outreach through the perception of diversity outreach
managers in higher education institutions in relation to a series of indicators, as well as the
presence and main characteristics of these indicators in the information published on the
websites of the selected universities.
The second part of the study was carried out within the qualitative paradigm. Through
documentary analysis of the statements, the goals sought through the strategic diversity outreach
plans and the definitions of diversity proposed by the higher education institutions, a
qualitative content analysis was conducted using a thematic analytical strategy and inductive
The necessary sample size was set using population data contained in the Academic Ranking of
World Universities (ARWU). This was the first global ranking system (2003), published since
2009 by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy, an independent higher education body that is not
answerable to any university or governmental organisation. More than 1200 higher education
institutions are registered every year, although only the top 500 in the ranking are published
(2017 edition). The ranking is based on six objective indicators: the number of people who
have won Nobel prizes and Fields Medals, the number of highly cited researchers selected by
Thomson Reuters, the number of articles published in Science and Nature journals, and the
documents indexed in Science Citation Index Expanded and Social Science Citation Index, and
per capita performance. Although any ranking system is biased?each one is based on specific
criteria and interests, the ARWU was selected because of its particular relevance in the
international arena, strongly influencing higher education evaluation policies in many countries [
Stratified sampling proportional to the size was carried out with help from the complex
samples option on the SPSS (v23) software. The stratification criteria used included the section
6 / 19
or range in which the university was placed in the ranking [the following sections are
established in the ranking: 1?100, 101?150, 151?200, 201?300, 301?400, 401?500], the type of
ownership [the universities were grouped together in public and private to simplify the number of
strata, despite the diverse ownership of some of them: public universities that received private
funding were classified as public and, vice versa, private universities that had public funding
were classified as private] and the world regions [the regions defined were as follows: North
America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania], resulting in 72 strata (6 sections
or ranges x 2 types of ownership x 6 world regions). Meanwhile, in the application an initial
percentage of 30% of surveyed units (universities) were selected to be included in the sample, a
pragmatic criterion that did not hamper the analysis of a potentially large amount of
information. The sample was later altered by targeting a range of eligible units according to the size of
the universities (between 1 and 6). On the basis of the above criteria, the sample included 127
universities, which were considered representative of the population of 500 universities (95%
confidence level and 7.5% margin of error).
Secondly, all the chief diversity and equality officers that were identified in the websites of
the 127 institutions made up the survey-based sample. The search resulted in 78 diversity
outreach officers or managers who were invited to fill in an online instrument.
Tools and procedure
Two tools, one interactive and another non-interactive, were used to log the information on
the institutionalisation indicators of diversity outreach:
1. e-Rubric to Evaluate the Institutionalisation of Diversity Outreach in Higher Education,
targeting key informants by email. The aim of this method was to examine the perception
of 78 diversity outreach managers identified on the university websites (those responsible
for the diversity were informed in the email sent and the e-rubric of the nature, objectives,
voluntariness of the participation and confidentiality of the data. Only if the respondents
agreed to cooperate in the study in the terms proposed, they could proceed to answer the
instrument. On the other hand, the Committee on Bioethics and Biosafety of the University
of Cordoba, which confirms that all the ethical requirements have been respected, explicitly
informs about the voluntariness in the participation, and endorses the anonymity of the
data. This Committee gave its approval to the methodology used, although regulations that
are in force in Spain do not require a specific approval of survey-based studies in the Social
Sciences like the one reported here). The English version of the tool was used given that it is
the most used language in the different professional and academic areas, as well as in global
communication on the whole. The e-Rubric was designed over two phases:
? Firstly, a list of 24 institutionalisation criteria was drawn up from literature and grouped
into 4 facets: 2 general (philosophy and institutional policy, and institutionalisation
strategies aimed at the university community) and 2 specific (institutionalisation strategies
aimed at teaching and research staff, and institutionalisation strategies aimed at
administrative managers within the institution). The evidence was drawn up in relation to the
three levels established in the institutionalisation process of each indicator: absence, in
process and consolidation.
? Secondly, the e-Rubric content was validated by two diversity experts, one of whom holds
a position of responsibility in this field in a university context. Both experts commented
on the drafting of 7 indicators, but had no objections with regard to the number or content
thereof, or to the facets or levels of institutionalisation. Lastly, the drafting of the
abovementioned indicators was improved (S1 Appendix).
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2. Log form of Institutionalisation Indicators of Diversity Outreach in Higher Education (see
the categories and indicators in S2 Appendix) It is applied to the content analysis of the
websites for the formal diversity outreach bodies in the selected universities for the purpose
of determining the presence and main characteristics of the previously established
indicators. Websites are significant information sources about the commitment of higher
education institutions to diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice [
]. Even counting the
form initially with the same indicators as the e-Rubric, 7 of these were eventually eliminated
(institutional culture, institutional context, accreditation, study programs, innovation,
research and resource management) due to a lack of relative information on the websites of
the selected institutions.
The information obtained with both tools was codified in a SPSS v.23 table for quantification
purposes (S1 Dataset). The analyses carried out were descriptive, as well as inferential when
determining the statistical differences in the institutionalisation indicators according to the
ranking ranges, ownership and world region.
In relation to the qualitative study, when reviewing the theoretical framework, no
precedents for the key categories or units of analysis in the studied field were identified with the
possibility of being transferred to this study. Therefore, the first phase entailed objectively
delimiting and defining the meaning of the units of analysis based on the information
recorded on the Log Form of Institutionalisation Indicators of Diversity Outreach in Higher
Education. Subsequently, the occurrence rate of the topic in the proposed categories was
codified. The IT program used to carry out the analysis was MAXQDA 12.
Out of a total of 78 diversity outreach managers asked to take part, 29 responded to the
eRubric (sections: Nsection1 = 5, Nsection2 = 5, Nsection3 = 10, Nsection4 = 7, Nsection5 = 2, Nsection6 =
0; ownership: Npublic = 20, Nprivate = 9; and world regions: NNorth America = 9, NEurope = 7,
NAsia = 7, NLatin America = 2, NOceania = 4, NAfrica = 0). The average frequency of indicators at
each institutionalisation level established in the tool (absence, in process and consolidation)
was 8.5, 9.9 and 5.5 respectively. Fig 1 separates these frequencies into each category in terms
of region, ownership and ranking section.
Coherent results were obtained through the Log Form of Institutionalisation Indicators of
Diversity Outreach in Higher Education, applied to the content of institutional websites. The
region of North America may be considered an exception, taking into account that the average
frequencies of universities that fulfilled the indicators and those that did not, as depicted in Fig
2, are very similar. As a counterpoint, there are significant differences between these types of
frequencies in the regions of Africa, Asia and Europe. This does not occur in Oceania, where
the differences between some universities and others are minor. Meanwhile, regardless of the
ownership of these universities, the majority of them did not fulfil the indicators. With regard
to the sections or ranges in which the universities are placed in the ranking, the difference
between the average frequencies of universities that fulfilled the indicators and those that did
not is minor for universities positioned in the first range. Unexpectedly, universities
positioned in the fourth and fifth range fulfilled more indicators than those positioned second and
In addition to measuring the average frequencies, the statistical significance of the
differences was checked through Chi-Squared and Likelihood Ratio tests. Given that the analysed
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Fig 1. Relative frequencies of indicators at each institutionalisation level in relation to the section, ownership and
Fig 2. Average frequencies of universities that did or did not fulfil all institutionalisation indicators, in terms of
ranking ranges, ownership and world region.
PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0219525
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sample is representative of the population of universities on the ranking, the applied inferential
tests help obtain information on the degree of homogeneity in fulfilling the indicators in the
set of 500 universities.
The high number of expected frequencies lower than 5 called for the reformulation of the
number of ranking ranges and world regions, in both cases dropping to three: 1?150, 151?300,
301?500, and North America, Europe and all other world regions [Oceania was not taken into
account in this last category in order to avoid concealing a differentiated case study in relation
to the other 3 regions included in the same level: Asia, Latin America and Africa] respectively.
So, from the significance values listed in Table 2, it is clear that there are significant differences
between universities according to the ranking ranges in the indicators concerning institutional
statement, definition of diversity, formal centralised body, beneficiaries, quality assurance
and/or institutional evaluation, and awards and acknowledgments. In these six indicators, the
review of contingency tables helps prove that neither variable is independent, but instead that
the frequency of universities that fulfil the indicators is always higher in the first range analysed
(1?150), while the frequency of those that fail to fulfil them is always higher in the last range
(301?500). Specifically, in the correlative order in which the six indicators were stated, the
frequency of universities that fulfil them from the first range in comparison with the last is as
follows: 26 vs. 20, 13 vs. 7, 14 vs. 5, 21 vs. 12, 7 vs. 1, and 11 vs. 9, respectively, and this is the case
despite the fact that the total number of institutions was higher in the third range (n1-150 = 38,
n301-500 = 48). On the other hand, this same comparison between the first range vs. the last one
for universities that fail to fulfil the indicators was observed in the following pairs of frequency:
12 vs. 28, 25 vs. 41, 24 vs. 43, 17 vs. 36, 31 vs. 47, and 27 vs. 39, respectively.
With regard to ownership, significant differences were identified in both tests between
public universities and private universities in one single indicator: information and awareness. In
?2 with Yates correction
particular, the number of public universities that did not fulfil this indicator (nno = 55) was
only slightly higher that those who did (nyes = 50). Meanwhile, the number of private
universities that failed to fulfil the indicator (nno = 18) significantly outnumbered the ones that did
(nyes = 4).
However, greater heterogeneity is observed in the geographical criterion. Only two of the
institutionalisation indicators (leadership of the university community and institutional
research) did not exhibit significant differences between universities according to the world
region. In the other fifteen criteria, the North American region clearly exceeded Europe in the
number of universities that fulfilled the indicators, while it fell well below the latter in the
frequency of universities that failed to fulfil the indicators?the total number of universities in
both geographical areas being roughly the same: nNorth America = 41, nEurope = 39?. On the
other hand, the frequency of European universities that fulfilled the indicators was higher than
the rest of the world, while the frequency is lower in terms of non-fulfilment, although the
differential frequency was higher between North America and Europe than between the latter
and the rest of the world. With the aim of specifying these statements, the average number was
calculated for universities from each region that fulfilled or failed to fulfil the indicators in
which statistical significance was reached, and the results outlined in Fig 3 were obtained.
S2 Appendix displays a summary of the comprehensive evidence [absolute and relative
frequencies] regarding the institutionalisation status of diversity outreach in the selected
universities, on the basis of the 17 indicators analysed on the institutional websites.
Out of a total of 127 universities, 58.3% have a formal centralised body for diversity
outreach, while 61.4% have people holding decision-making positions in this area. More
specifically, the diversity outreach manager is part of the senior management team in 20.5% of the
institutions, while this person ranks lower in terms of responsibility in 26.8% of the
With regard to the formal bodies, the beneficiaries of the actions of 49 of them are all of the
collectives within the university community. That said, this is not adequately represented in
the coordination team (13.5%). Half of the formal bodies have support and guidance systems
in place, mainly the advisory council (25.7%), and with educational activities based on training
programs and workshops as more common methods (29.7% and 28.4% respectively).
The most stable institutionalisation indicators in the formal bodies are those concerning
information and awareness (73%) and support programs and initiatives for the university
community (96%). Specifically, institutions mainly tend to hold events (43.2%) and organise
conferences and talks (29.7%) as methods to raise awareness. Likewise, programs and
initiatives aimed at members of the university community with disabilities or learning difficulties
Fig 3. Areas and average frequencies of universities grouped together by large regions [North America, Europe,
Others], which fulfil or fail to fulfil the 15 indicators in which statistical significance was reached in the
ChiSquared and Likelihood Ratio tests.
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are common (47.3%), as are those targeting members who wish to issue an alert or complaint
of discrimination or harassment (40.5%).
On the other hand, the least stable institutionalisation indicators in the formal bodies are
connected to quality assurance or institutional evaluation (16.2%), institutional research
(27%), progress visibility (27%), diversity in the demographic composition (29.7%),
collaboration with external entities (25.7%) and awards and acknowledgments (31.1%). In relation to
indicators of quality assurance or institutional evaluation, institutional research and awards
and acknowledgments, the formal bodies have conducted research through surveys to
determine the inclusive environment of the institution (12.2%), gender studies (9.5%), and they
have given awards and acknowledgments to individuals with a solid commitment to diversity
Alongside the simple quantification indicating that in half of the institutions there are
references to diversity in the institutional statements (51.2%) and that less than half of them lack a
strategic plan (26%) or a definition of diversity (19.7%), it is even more pertinent to determine
the stance and lines of action taken by institutions that can be inferred on the basis of the
qualitatively analysed data, assigning categories that, in turn, we have quantified.
The aims set out by the institutions in their statements are primarily linked to the creation
of a diverse university community and an inclusive culture or environment by celebrating
diversity as a value, as shown in Fig 4.
These results are linked to those obtained from the actions defined in strategic plan goals.
In general terms, they are aimed at the university community (63.2%), administrative
managers (20.6%) and the philosophy or approach taken by the institution regarding actions to
address diversity (16.2%). More specifically, there is a higher number of actions linked to the
creation of a diverse university community, education and training, as well as the participation
and achievements of the student body, as seen in Fig 5.
On the other hand, delving further into the concept of "diversity", the universities that have
established a definition, have mainly interpreted the term as a "representation of differences"
(73.9%). In much smaller percentages, they have clarified the meaning using terms of
"inclusion" (21.7%), "respect" (13%) and "environment" (13%). There is a higher percentage of
definitions that entail gender (73.9%), sexual diversity (69.5%), age (60.9%) and disability (60.9%)
among the characteristics that make an individual different from another. To a lesser extent,
they specify physical appearance (8.7%) and work experience (8.7%), as seen in Fig 6.
Discussion and conclusions
The evidence gathered highlights that higher education institutions from the ARWU are at the
beginning of process to institutionalise diversity outreach, in view of the low percentage
Fig 4. Distribution of frequency coding according to the institutional statement.
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Fig 5. Distribution of frequency coding according to the goals of the strategic plans.
obtained for the proposed indicators. Wide spread differences in the progress made in the
institutionalisation process were not identified according to the type of ownership or ranking
position of the institutions, although a certain degree of monopolization by neoliberalism on
diversity practices might be inferred from differences found between first and last range
institutions in six indicators. The fact that universities that perform better in the ARWU also stand
Fig 6. Distribution of frequency coding according to the concept of "diversity".
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out in some diversity indicators might provide some support to the market?s use of diversity
]. Another factor that could have exerted some influence on the fulfilment of
diversity indicators is the world region. Here, the historical background in the advocacy for
civil rights and equal opportunities policies in world regions like North America [
likely had a positive influence on the processes to consolidate diversity outreach.
As it was mentioned in the description of the sample, the ARWU was selected because of its
influence on higher education evaluation policies in many countries. There are not many
global rankings of significance?Hazelkorn [
] limits the number to ten?, three of them
being considered as the most prominent: ARWU, Times Higher Education, and Quacquarelli
]. Among the ?big three?, ARWU outcomes seem to be more strongly predicted
by objective research indicators, while the university ranks in the other two systems would be
significantly predicted by expert-based reputation indicators [
]. Although objective
indicators of ARWU could be taken as higher quality criteria, this system does not take into account
the service mission of higher education, and it might partially explain the limited global
percentage of consolidated institutional indicators that are fulfilled in the area of diversity, as well
as the small number of differences that we found in fulfilment of indicators according to the
ranking ranges. Since every ranking is biased, future research in this area should therefore use
other global rankings and verify the prevalence of some diversity indicators in the top higher
education institutions that we have found in the study reported here. Regional, national
rankings and, even more interesting, meta-rankings as the one recently made by Luque-Mart??nez y
], should also be used to check the presence of diversity indicators in different
ranges or in different clusters of universities. Multi-source evidence could provide a clearer
picture about the relation of market- with social-based indicators, helping to interpret
discrepant results when using different systems.Regarding the qualitative dimension of the study, in
general terms, higher education institutions stipulate in their institutional statements and the
goals of their strategic diversity outreach plans that one of the main aims is to increase the
features of diversity in the demographic composition of the institution. Furthermore, this aim is
connected to the language used in the definitions of diversity [
]. The term is defined as a
representation of differences. Thus, this study supports previous evidence that an economic
approach to the conceptualisation might prevail, which acknowledges the differences or types
of representation and attempts to boost the heterogeneity of the university community without
making a social commitment to the inequalities . In any case, it is apparent that the
representation of a diverse community has yet to be achieved [
Not only the diverse demographic composition of universities, as well as institutional
statements and definitions of diversity, could be at the service of middle-class whites and their
structural power [
], but other indicators would also be drawn upon market-driven
rationales?some of them related to differences found between ranking ranges?, thus reacting to
the current phenomenon of massification in higher education [
]. This might be the case of
the presence of a formal body in charge of coordinating diversity outreach efforts whose
beneficiaries include the entire university community, the systematic and ongoing evaluations of
diversity outreach initiatives, and formal mechanisms that encourage and acknowledge the
involvement in activities linked to diversity outreach. All these factors make diversity visible
and could be understood as publicity mechanisms aimed at gaining share in the global market
of higher education. In fact, greater participation of different social groups is expanding in
higher education, but a gap remains in educational and graduate outcomes, particularly in
elite universities [
]. Nonetheless, each of the indicators deserve further research to explore
how stakeholders give meaning to them in diverse institutions.
Meanwhile, the presence of a formal centralised body that coordinates diversity outreach
endeavours in half of the higher education institutions could have also helped promote
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advocacy and awareness-raising actions, develop educational activities and, particularly,
support programs and initiatives aimed at different groups of the university community. In the
absence of a widespread commitment to a culture of inclusion, and even considering their
market component, these three types of effects would support positive conclusions which are
linked to the main lines of action outlined in the goals of the strategic plans, and which have
possibly determined the increase and dissemination of best practices in regions such as Europe
]. However, the institutions must continue to make progress on institutional research and
evaluation processes, as well as on mechanisms that display the progress in order to make
decisions based on objective data [
]. They should also collaborate with external social bodies that
foster the enrichment and mutual recognition of the best practices developed in diversity
outreach. All these suggestions could help approximate perspectives that are still far away from
each other?market and diversity approaches?, as well as promote the convergence between
universities and society.
The main restrictions found in the study are linked to language diversity and the content
on institutional websites. A hypothesis on the reduced number of participants on the e-Rubric
to evaluate the Institutionalisation of Diversity Outreach in Higher Education could be the
difficulty experienced by some key informants in understanding the tool due to a lack of English,
the language used for its dissemination considering it is the working language in the academic
community. In addition, this difficulty based on a lack of knowledge of the language emerged
in reading and registering the information found on the university websites, where the
dominant language of the country where they are located is used. In order to overcome this
difficulty, translators provided by the websites were of help. In addition to language challenges,
another difficulty is linked to the use of institutional websites as sources of reliable,
comprehensive and updated information, although they have been taken in other studies as significant
information sources [
]. A check of reliability would have involved conducting a survey
that, in turn, would have been affected by an uncertain response rate.
In short, the universities should move forward in institutionalisation processes that help
eliminate inequalities and promote social justice, even when excellence is booming. The
solution may lie in mixing inclusion with excellence to create opportunities for personal, social
and professional development for all, which calls for the institutions to adopt a solid
commitment to the social responsibility they are assigned from political and civil bodies [
After verifying the initial stage that universities are at in the process to institutionalise
diversity outreach, it is considered crucial to analyse the trends in this course of action. Perhaps
now is the time to conduct longitudinal studies that help analyse the variations in
institutionalisation indicators, and thus determine the evolution of the level of commitment made by
universities to diversity outreach. It is an analysis that must be thoroughly contextualised,
considering that the direction of higher education institutions is closely tied to politics,
economy, ideologies and social attitudes, which are currently evolving faster than in eras past.
S1 Dataset. Data file.
S1 Appendix. Facets and indicators of institutionalization.
S2 Appendix. Frequency and percentage of the selected universities, according to 17
institutionalisation indicators of diversity outreach.
15 / 19
Conceptualization: Mariana Buenestado-Ferna?ndez, Jose? Luis A? lvarez-Castillo, Hugo
Gonza?lez-Gonza?lez, Luis Espino-D??az.
Data curation: Mariana Buenestado-Ferna?ndez, Hugo Gonza?lez-Gonza?lez, Luis Espino-D??az.
Formal analysis: Mariana Buenestado-Ferna?ndez, Jose? Luis A? lvarez-Castillo, Hugo
Funding acquisition: Jose? Luis A? lvarez-Castillo.
Investigation: Hugo Gonza?lez-Gonza?lez, Luis Espino-D??az.
Methodology: Mariana Buenestado-Ferna?ndez, Hugo Gonza?lez-Gonza?lez.
Project administration: Jose? Luis A?lvarez-Castillo.
Resources: Mariana Buenestado-Ferna?ndez.
Software: Jose? Luis A?lvarez-Castillo.
Supervision: Jose? Luis A? lvarez-Castillo.
Validation: Mariana Buenestado-Ferna?ndez, Hugo Gonza?lez-Gonza?lez.
Visualization: Mariana Buenestado-Ferna?ndez, Hugo Gonza?lez-Gonza?lez, Luis Espino-D??az.
Writing ? original draft: Mariana Buenestado-Ferna?ndez, Jose? Luis A? lvarez-Castillo.
Writing ? review & editing: Mariana Buenestado-Ferna?ndez, Jose? Luis A?lvarez-Castillo,
Hugo Gonza?lez-Gonza?lez, Luis Espino-D??az.
16 / 19
17 / 19
Warikoo NK, Deckman SL. Beyond the Numbers: Institutional Influences on Experiences with Diversity
on Elite College Campuses. Sociol. Forum. 2014; 29(4):959?81.
18 / 19
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