Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

How Culturally Sensitive is our Curriculum? A Multi-Institutional Study

Quinlan, Kathleen M. and Haider, Muhammad Arslan (2022) How Culturally Sensitive is our Curriculum? A Multi-Institutional Study. Project report. NERUPI Network Evaluating and Researching University Participation Interventions, Canterbury, UK (Unpublished) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:99494)

PDF Pre-print
Language: English

Restricted to Repository staff only
Contact us about this Publication
[thumbnail of how culturally sensitive is our curriculum.pdf]


The Office for Students has set a target for all higher education institutions in England charging higher fees to:

-eliminate the unexplained gap in degree outcomes (1sts or 2:1s) between white students and black students by 2024-25, and to eliminate the gap entirely by 2030-31

Degree outcomes are affected by a wide range of factors and, in this case, racialised inequalities within the sector appear to be a key element.Creating more culturally sensitive curricula is one way to build more equitable higher education institutions, and research indicates that it may have a positive impact on students’, particularly racially minoritised students’, experience of and engagement with the curriculum and final degree outcome.

In this study, seven NERUPI institutions worked together to survey second year undergraduate students in at least one selected programme (in the arts, humanities, social sciences or an applied health sciences) per university to determine the relationship between cultural sensitivity of the curriculum, students’ interest in their course, and their satisfaction with the course. Students completed a 15 minute survey rating six dimensions of the cultural sensitivity of the curriculum (the Culturally Sensitive Curricula Scales or CSCS), their interest in their course (a measure of engagement) and their satisfaction with their course, as well as providing demographic information. If what students were taught and the way they were taught it was culturally sensitive, students rated five of the six CSCS dimensions highly. These dimensions were:

-Diversity Represented (e.g. diversity cultures, people, perspectives are represented in the curriculum)

-Positive Depictions (e.g. people of colour and people of diverse ethnicities are presented in positive ways that affirm their strengths and assets)

-Challenge Power (e.g. students are encouraged to raise critical questions about power and privilege that are usually taken for granted)

-Inclusive Classroom Interactions (e.g. instructors encourage students to be mindful of others’ perspectives)

-Culturally Sensitive Assessments (e.g. students are encouraged to connect the subject to diverse cultural experiences, perspectives, histories or contexts.)

-On the sixth dimension, Negative Portrayals, (e.g. people of colour are presented in negative or stereotyped ways), we expected to see disagreement indicated by low ratings if the curricula is culturally sensitive.

286 students (64% white; 17% Asian; 10% Black) from 7 universities and 8 different disciplinary areas completed the survey. We found that:

-Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students rated the curricula as less culturally sensitive than their white peers across almost all dimensions of the CSCS. Black African, Caribbean and Black British students tended to rate the curriculum as less culturally sensitive than Asian and Asian British students, particularly on Positive Depictions and Negative Portrayals of people of colour in the curriculum. This finding shows that BAME students, particularly Black students, perceive their curriculum differently from White students. They may feel excluded, marginalised or ignored as a result. This finding was true across universities and courses, suggesting it is a widespread problem. Educators need to improve the cultural sensitivity of our curriculum to ensure it is inclusive for all students.

-Regardless of the ethnicity of the student, culturally sensitive curricula were associated with higher interest in the course, even when controlling for teachers’ approachability and enthusiasm. The five positive aspects of culturally sensitive curricula each predicted students’ interest. That means culturally sensitive curricula are likely to benefit all students, not just BAME students.

-BAME students were less satisfied with their courses. This finding was expected because we selected items from the National Student Survey on which there have been consistently lower scores from BAME students. We found that students’ scores on the cultural sensitivity of the curriculum may help to explain these gaps in satisfaction between BAME and White students, but we aren’t sure because the role is CSCS is no longer significant when controlling for teachers’ enthusiasm and approachability. More research is needed on this issue.

To conclude, BAME students, and particularly Black students, perceive the curricula as less culturally sensitive than their peers, highlighting a significant and meaningful “experience gap”. Improving the cultural sensitivity of the curriculum, then, may help create a more equitable HE experience for racially minoritised students. Doing so may also improve their course satisfaction. In sum, culturally sensitive curricula are good for both BAME and White students insofar as they are associated with higher interest in the course (engagement) for all students. Based on the findings, universities should continue to emphasise efforts to create more culturally sensitive curricula. It is also important to collaborate across universities to share promising practices and tools. Given the discipline-specificity of curricula, professional societies and accrediting bodies can play an important role in leading on processes of reimagining curricula in their fields.

Item Type: Reports and Papers (Project report)
Additional information: The full report is available in the members only area of the NERUPI website.
Uncontrolled keywords: higher education, university, curriculum, cultural sensitivity, equality, subject interest, engagement, satisfaction
Subjects: L Education
Divisions: Divisions > Directorate of Education > Centre for the Study of Higher Education
Depositing User: Kathleen Quinlan
Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2023 11:53 UTC
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2023 14:57 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Quinlan, Kathleen M..

Creator's ORCID:
CReDIT Contributor Roles:

Haider, Muhammad Arslan.

Creator's ORCID:
CReDIT Contributor Roles:
  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.