Reflecting on equity and challenges for the future

13 March 2023
4 min read
CEO – Oxford University Press

Nigel Portwood

“Equity in education is about more than providing equal access; it’s about understanding how those access needs adapt and change based on circumstance.”

With the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) being “Embrace Equity”, it feels like an important time to reflect on the steps we’re taking at OUP to champion equity across all our operations and activities, as well as recognize where we can go one step further.

While equality is focused on ensuring access to equal opportunities, the concept of equity is centered around how each person has different circumstances and requires specific resources and opportunities in accordance with these, to reach an equal outcome.

As a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Publishers Compact, we aim to work alongside other publishers to inspire action in the delivery of all 17 SDGs by 2030. This includes Goal 4; “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Equity in education is about more than providing equal access; it’s about understanding how those access needs adapt and change based on circumstance.

Digital technology can be harnessed to support teachers and learners in an inclusive and equitable way. Last month, we launched our new Oxford IB Diploma Programme Science 2023 resources. Using adaptive technology, it offers a personalized learning journey, tailored to each student’s skills and abilities. To enable everyone to benefit from the new functionality—including those with visual impairments—our colleagues have worked hard to ensure that the platform supports an equal outcome for all learners. This is also reflected in the content by including diverse, real-life examples to inspire learners about how science applies directly to them and how they too can be scientists.

Similarly, we are proud to partner with one of the UK’s leading sight loss charities, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), to make a number of our titles available on Bookshare—a free service for teachers, pupils, and students that provides books and resources in accessible and adaptive formats, including electronic braille, PDF, and audio. Last month, the charity announced an impressive milestone having added its millionth title to the website and we look forward to increasing accessibility to our books as the RNIB Bookshare continues to expand.

Embracing equity is not only important when it comes to how we create and deliver our publishing, but in ensuring that our published content—and indeed any future content acquisitions—reflect our ongoing commitment to represent diversity of experience. For example, we recently published a new choral music anthology, The Oxford Book of Choral Music by Black Composers, which highlights the contributions by black composers and aims to address a historical lack of representation of black musicians and composers in the choral canon.

This is also a focus within OUP, as we continue to strive for equality, diversity, and inclusion, and creating a workplace for colleagues where everyone can succeed—free from bias, discrimination, or stereotyping. We know that in order to achieve our mission, we need to take into account a diverse range of thoughts, ideas, and experiences, and reflect this in all that we put out into the world.

That’s why we wanted to make the most of celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day and continue the conversation around equity by hosting live events for colleagues to showcase our varied experiences and share what equity means to us as individuals. As we consider the progress we’ve made so far, and the steps we’re taking to create equal opportunities, it’s also important to acknowledge that the hard work can’t stop there. Striving for equity is an ongoing effort and one that must be at the forefront of our minds every day of the year.