Oulu University – Oulu, Finland

At the Oulu University there is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Specialist role established in 2023 in the Unit for Strategy and Science Policy. The new role is designed to coordinate work on diversity, equity and inclusion across different functions (research, teaching, societal engagement) and units (faculties, services, leadership, students). This role was advocated by the development director of the university. Currently, this service supports persons with disabilities; 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(s)/legislation, by the university’s internal policies, by students and based on relevant academic and policy research.

The activities that the service/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; 
  • Public promotion (e.g. production of media content such as podcasts);
  • Improving physical accessibility; 
  • Improving digital accessibility. 

The last innovative practices/tools introduced at Oulu University when it comes to ensuring inclusion, diversity and equal access were the releasing of a policy and accessibility plans and an event named “Equality and Diversity Morning Coffees”. The idea was that at the morning coffees, people could meet the faculties’ Equality and Diversity Contact Persons and hear about the realization of equality and diversity in their faculties. Also, at the morning coffee, feedback on equality and diversity work carried out at the university was welcomed.   

In addition to activities to support inclusion, Oulu University implements measures/activities to counter exclusionary and discriminatory practices through strategy/action plan(s) and recommendations/guidelines.

The aim to have a DEI Specialist was to have an interlink between different units and functions as the DEI sphere has been quite dispersed and relevant work has been carried out through HR, student services, international office, student union, ICT (among others) but without a unifying link. Another aim was to bring the topics of DEI more to the fore in general. The factors crucial for the institutional leadership in deciding to establish a service for wider access/inclusion/diversity for students/staff were mostly Oulu’s membership in UNIC alliance, competition for international talent (both academic staff and students), recent social movements and geopolitical tensions putting pressure on universities (MeToo, Black Lives Matter, war in Ukraine etc.) and ethical and legal commitment to promoting equality and non-discrimination. Although it is too early to assess the level of success of this role, since it was created in 2023, there are already many positive signs suggesting that DEI work is progressing.
There is a robust organizational structure for promoting DEI work which is essential: Equality and Diversity Committee, three Equality and Diversity working groups, thought-out processes for reporting harassment, trainings and in-house research groups and study programs relating to DEI. Students and members of staff have their designated Equality and Diversity Contact Persons (21 in total). The Equality and Diversity Plan is updated every two years and it outlines and describes the work on equality and non-discrimination with targeted action points. The Accessibility Plan is updated every two years and it describes how accessibility is realized within the university. The programme design, as well as other activities, are decided together with all the actors mentioned above. Diversity, inclusion and equality topics are mentioned in this service and in the university’s strategies, policies and work plans. The university is part of national, European and global networks.
Oulu University has a formal evaluation process of the service by using quantitative and qualitative indicators. At this university, the evaluation data is collected through surveys (eg: well-being survey, annual questionnaire) and statistical indicators (number of participants in training, visitor counter in intranet, number of leaves).

A person only for D&I topics but within the Unit for Strategy and Science Policy.

Oulu, Finland