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Bending the rules with Dr Gurnam Singh

Dr Gurnam Singh AEM workshops: Can we bend the rules of engagement? 

During March 2021 the Academic Enhancement and Attainment team welcomed Dr Gurnam Singh, UAL Visiting Fellow in Race and Education, to deliver 5 open discussion workshops with colleagues engaged in 1 of the 3 strands of the Academic Enhancement Model (AEM).  

The workshops were attended by 151 colleagues from across UAL who discussed the challenges and successes of each AEM area:  

  • Fostering belonging and compassionate pedagogy 
  • Decolonising pedagogy and curriculum 
  • Enhancing assessment for equity  

Couldn’t attend the sessions? Watch extracts of the presentations online now.

The current moment 

Gurnam began by framing the current context of Higher Education around Covid-19, the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement,  and the murder of Sarah Everard. The provocation was:  Do our current rules of education still apply in such times? 

“I think we have reached an unprecedented ‘reflexive’ moment in history where, paraphrasing Antonio Gramsci, I believe the old order is no longer sustainable, but the new is waiting to be born.”

Dr Gurnam Singh

What are the challenges we are facing? 

Gurnam suggested that one of the things that stops us from being “radical” are the real or imagined rules in Higher Education. For example, around assessment processes or the perceived constraints around student community. Could creative thinking round the rules of engagement be a way forward? 

The discussions covered a range of topics, including:

  • Given the context of the pandemic, how has the social contract of education changed? 
  • Who is bending the rules? It’s not straightforward for teaching staff. The group discussed that colleagues need both patronage and confidence to bend rules: ideally you need the support of peers and managers and a sense of belonging. 
  • Can we encourage more opportunities in formative assessment, around peer assessment and possible co-creation of assessment? 

Participant Lucy Panesar commented afterwards that what resonated for her was “the notion of rule bending being part of creative growth, and also part of achieve equity, social justice, where the norm only serves to maintain inequalities.”

Attendee Cath Hawes also reflected on the “concept of ‘performativity’ and how I feel we as a team (Academic Support) ‘battle’ against lots of academic norms and conventions that create barriers to access to learning for students and impact negatively on their agency, sense of confidence/self-worth, visibility etc.”

At the close of the workshops, Gurnam thanked colleagues who attended: 

 “Many thanks for the positive vibes, but to remind ourselves that it is a team effort. Equally or perhaps even more importantly, we need to think of a strategy to harness and amplify the energy for innovation, disruption, bending the rules etc that these sessions have generated.”

Thank you

The AEM and attainment team would like to thank all those who participated in these rich discussions: your contributions inform enhancement work across UAL. 


If you attended a workshop and would like to give some feedback, please complete our short survey.

Forthcoming events

Gurnam will facilitate more discussion workshops this term so do look out for event notifications from the Exchange in the coming weeks.  

Watch extracts from the Workshops

If you weren’t able to attend the sessions use the links below to view some of the presentation and discussion (UAL staff login required).


Read general information about each strand.  

Find your AEM College Lead or email the AEM coordinator (

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