Ghent University – Ghent, Belgium

At Ghent University, there is a Diversity and Inclusion Office. Initially, in 2004, the programme started working on gender, under the leadership of Professor Maryssa De Moor. In 2008, it became ’Gender & Diversity’ because the competent minister of education gave educational institutions resources to work on ’disability’ and on ’ethnic-cultural diversity’. In 2021, Ghent University changed it into ’Diversity and Inclusion’ because for this university, inclusion is the prerequisite for diversity (in the broad sense) to excel. Currently, this office supports mainly persons with disabilities; low-income students; first generation students; students/staff with a refugee or migrant backgrounds; LGBTQ students/staff; and staff/students of colour. These equity groups were proposed/identified by national plan/legislation; university’s internal policies; suggested by community, citizens, other external stakeholders; and by the Flemish Interuniversity Council.

The activities that the department has carried out (in the last two years) with regard to equal access/inclusion/diversity are: 

  • support and counselling for students and university staff; 
  • lectures, workshops, seminars for students, faculty and non-teaching staff; 
  • training courses for peer educators;
  • public promotion (e.g. production of media content such as podcasts); 
  • improving digital accessibility; 
  • improving physical accessibility. 
  • learning networks Diversity and Inclusion 

The activities with the greatest impact in the context in which this office operates were lectures, workshops, seminars for students, teachers and non-teaching staff; activities regarding improving physical accessibility; and the learning networks on diversity and inclusion. Lectures, workshops, seminars for students, teachers and non-teaching staff, because it led to actions at faculties and ensured that faculties work around diversity and inclusion. Also, the exchange of good practices by faculties led to actions among faculties. (E.g. the Inclusion Charter). Regarding activities to improve physical accessibility, Ghent University organized accessibility rounds on different campuses with staff and students who have disabilities (visual, physical, auditory, ..) or ASD. Through co-creation this university tried to optimize the signage on campuses and to identify and remove obstacles as much as possible. Learning networks on Diversity and Inclusion also had a great impact because it provided more than only training.

The last innovative practise/tool introduced at Ghent University when it comes to ensuring inclusion, diversity and equal access is the ongoing work on the development of an online onboarding module called “respectful behavior”. This module is being designed for new staff and students and it consists of the following components: a) what is transgressive behavior and discrimination? What are the risk factors? What forms and examples exist in university context? 2) What to do if you experience something yourself, or see or hear something? 3) Where can you ask for advice and help? And what is the procedure at the university?  

In addition to activities to support inclusion, Ghent University implements measures/activities to counter exclusionary and discriminatory practices through binding policy (legislation), recommendations/guidelines and preventive programmes.

At Ghent University, the motivation for establishing this office (for gender) was initially the lack of female professors. There were several factors crucial for the institutional leadership in deciding to establish a service for wider access/inclusion/diversity for students/staff: lack of female professors (in 2004); Flemish government gave resources to work on the intake of students with disabilities and students from ethnic-cultural backgrounds (2008); legislation that obliged the university to work towards gender-balanced composition of boards and committees (2012); European Commission requires universities to work on diversity and equality (2021); global support for ’diversity and inclusion’ in higher education institutions is increasing. This office is a successful project because its existence leads to increased awareness among staff and students about the changing conditions in the world around justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging as a prerequisite for excellence.
Some activities of this office are partially governed by national laws. For example, the special decree of 13 July 2012 which states that councils and committees of the university must be gender-balanced (minimum 1/3 of the same sex).
The diversity and inclusion office in central services is composed of 9 people: Office of the Vice-Chancellor (2 staff members) – Department of Educational Affairs (5 staff members) – Personnel and Organization Department (2 staff members). Apart from this, every faculty has a faculty diversity coordinator and a faculty diversity and inclusion committee. All of these are part of a university-wide Diversity & Inclusion Committee. The university Committee on Diversity & Inclusion has a policy advisory role and plays an active role in the exchange of information between the central services and faculties. Knowledge, expertise, good practices and research results related to diversity & inclusion are exchanged in this committee. The Committee meets every two months under the chairmanship of the Vice Rector. Each faculty diversity & inclusion committee shapes the diversity policy at the faculty level and provides input for the centrally managed diversity policy. Each team, composed of committed employees and students, determines which accents are placed, taking into account the faculty context. Diversity, inclusion and equality topics are mentioned in this department and at the university’s strategies, policies and work plans. At this university, decisions are taken internally by the management of UGent’s central services and by the faculties (faculty diversity coordinators).
The main challenges to establish a successful office are to create support and avoid polarization. Lack of resources can also be seen as a challenge. The main obstacles to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the service is to try to show that ’diversity and inclusion’ are not isolated issues or projects. Diversity and inclusion should not be treated as a form of charity, carried out by committed staff/volunteers. D&I should be seen as a prerequisite for excellence. This office is funded by the university itself. Despite the funding of this office being almost completely stable, the work of this office is totally dependent on unpaid volunteers.
Although at this university a formal evaluation process of the office does not exist, many other indicators are used to measure success. On students, the following are analyzed: sex, students with a migration background EU or non-EU (self registration), first generation students (self registration), scholarship, pre-university education. (In next academic year, Ghent University will start measuring ’gender identity’). On staff, Ghent University analyzes sex and nationality. There is also evaluation of the different D&I-projects . The data is collected from the university’s system at the enrolment period by the student itself. The evaluation of the different D&I projects comes from different staff members. Currently, the evaluation of D&I activities/office is limited to a report of activities in the Annual Report of the university.

Diversity and Inclusion Office

Ghent, Belgium