United through diversity

Authors: Dr Sammy Li, Equality & Diversity Advisor for Students, University of Birmingham and Guido de Wilde, Manager of Global Student Experience & Engagement, University of Amsterdam.

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the University of Birmingham (UoB) share many similarities. Both institutions have approximately 36,000 students comprising well over 100 nationalities. We are also members of the Universitas 21 network of 27 world-class institutions. Such diversity and global connectivity on our campuses provide enriching opportunities for students and staff to share knowledge and experiences with peers from all walks of life. Unsurprisingly, Student Services of Amsterdam and Birmingham have joined forces to champion cultural diversity and inclusivity through our respective flagship programmes of UvA Exchange Ambassadors and UoB Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Student Ambassadors.

At UvA, Exchange Ambassadors are recruited every semester to work in small teams on projects, where they engage with targeted underrepresented groups of students and promote equal access to student mobility programmes and international exchange opportunities. Birmingham’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Student Ambassadors partner with Colleges, Professional Services teams, and student groups to develop and embed local initiatives for student equality. This utilises our student ambassadors’ lived experiences and peer-to-peer networks for promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Building a cross-institutional bridge between two student ambassador programmes helps to enhance our engagement with minority or marginalised groups to promote student mobility and campus participation. It has also empowered both students and staff of the programmes becoming explorers of the truly diverse and multicultural communities in our cities. As such, the student ambassadors at Birmingham recently undertook a Diversity & Inclusion Insight Day at the head office of HSBC UK. They met and discussed with management staff on a range of topics including diversification of the bank’s graduate management programme, gender and racial balance in senior roles, gay pride sponsorship and inclusivity on gender identity, and financial inclusions for vulnerable customers and homeless individuals without postal addresses.

Going forward, UvA and UoB will be launching the A&B Equality Challenge in the coming academic year. The initial round will begin with Birmingham’s student ambassadors going to the Dutch capital and join with their Amsterdam peers to undertake three days of community visits. They will meet with representatives from the private, public, and the third sectors exploring equality challenges in a societal context. The student ambassador team will conclude these visits by developing their proposition on involving young people to advocate for a more inclusive society.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of global student exchange at UvA. Amsterdam’s Office of International Student Affairs is exploring opportunities to support students from underrepresented groups to take part in global exchange programmes. Both universities will also work in partnership to develop inclusivity resources around intercultural competency. Our work will help empower students embracing their authentic self when they are navigating abroad in different social norms. We trust that such a skill will be a key asset to students who will bridge with people globally in an ever-connected world.

The collaboration between the two universities aims to create cultural change on our campuses, and also aspires to leave a long-term legacy by inspiring the next generation of global leaders who will utilise their knowledge and development gained from our programmes to champion social equity for future generations.

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