What is missing from the UKPSF?

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The majority of academic staff in the United Kingdom will have come across the UKPSF in one form or another. It has been a benchmark for my academic development practice for fourteen years. The United Kingdom Professional Standards Framework is a set of statements, arguably objectives, for the ‘complete’ skill profile for an academic working in tertiary education. Divided into three areas, core knowledge, professional values and areas of activity, there is some potential overlap but it remains sufficiently broad to reflect the reality at the chalk-face (or PowerPoint screen). It has proved itself to be largely unopposed in the UK context  (certainly there are few rivals) and despite some tweaking of the original 2004 version in 2011, unchanged.

The stability and endurance of the framework is a tribute to its authors, with contributions drawn from across the tertiary sector. The homogeneous nature of the inputs does give us a framework that sometimes feels like a United Nations Security Council resolution, written in diplomatic English, designed not to offend and to be  ‘universal’, in other words euro-centric. Therein lies the difficulty.

As the Aotearoa New Zealand academic community has struggled to adopt and adapt the UKPSF to their unique post-colonial context, they have faced a challenge. In Aotearoa, the Treaty of Waitangi is enshrined in much of public policy and practice. An acknowledgement of the values ascribed to indigenous Māori perspectives, the Treaty is a touchstone for any professional practice framework. For this reason, Ako Aotearoa (NZ’s professional academic body equivalent to AdvanceHE, the inheritor of the HEA’s remit) continues to consider its position with respect to the UKPSF. Incorporating a range of Māori cultural and philosophical perspectives, kaupapa māori, including philosophical doctrines, indigenous knowledge, skills, attitudes and values, is an ongoing challenge. So far, I am aware only of one iteration of an NZ revised PSF operated by Auckland University of Technology, AUT, under the name of Ako Aronui (http://cflat.aut.ac.nz/ako-aronui/). Having been denied the opportunity to modify the original UKPSF (to ensure recognition process remained intact), the team at AUT have appended a Māori perspective to each element in the framework (Buissink et al., 2017). At face value, this could appear to be a mere translation, but it is much more than that. It could be seen as a cultural reinterpretation of each concept or notion. It falls short of a reappraisal of the fundamental indigenous approaches to learning, but it appears respectful and well-considered.

Australian colleagues have taken a somewhat different approach, drafting a ‘University Teaching Criteria and Standards Framework’ that directly linking roles and promotional structures to values and attributes within their framework. Australian colleagues claimed only to have used the UKPSF as a reference source rather than as a template. In the absence of an embedded or enshrined single treaty arrangement with the heterogeneous Aboriginal peoples of Australia, there is significantly less widespread inter-cultural reverence for different perspectives on learning. (http://uniteachingcriteria.edu.au/)

As a diverse, and somewhat eclectic, sector, the Canadian tertiary sector does not have a single professional framework for educators to aspire to. This is a country in which quality assurance is largely the responsibility of the Provinces, and there is no central national oversight, so this it is hardly surprising. Nonetheless, there are positive moves towards a recognition of the inherent values embedded in indigenous customs and practice with regards to learning, in a document produced by Universities Canada in 2015, entitled “Principles on Indigenous education“.

What the Aotearoa and Canadian examples share, and are absent from both the Australian and UK contexts, is an explicit desire not only to be inclusive and make liberal use of words such as access and equality (shared by all) but also to advocate for the indigenization, as well as the internationalization, of the learning experience. I would argue this is a serious omission from the UKPSF. It is absent from any derivation that does not, or is not permitted, to alter the original. There needs to be, I suggest, an acknowledgement of the unique cultural context in which any framework is drafted and explicit recognition of the philosophical and socio-cultural values that are embedded within it.

In the context of the UKPSF, this could be remedied by an additional statement in each category of elements; I’d make them top of the list, or number ‘0’.

Core Knowledge (K0) The cultural context in which knowledge is created and valued within their discipline.
Professional Values (P0) Recognise different epistemological frameworks and perspectives on learning and disciplinary knowledge.
Areas of Activity (A0) Embrace indigenous perspectives in all aspects of the educational practice.

That’s what’s missing. The challenge from an Anglo-European-American (post-enlightenment, Judeo-Christian, rationalist) perspective is to acknowledge that there is ‘another’ way of experiencing and learning-in and -about the world.


Buissink, N., Diamond, P., Hallas, J., Swann, J., & Sciascia, A. D. (2017). Challenging a measured university from an indigenous perspective: placing ‘manaaki’ at the heart of our professional development programme. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(3), 569–582. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2017.1288706

Author: Simon Paul Atkinson

30 years as an educational strategist, academic practitioner and developer, educational developer, educational technologist, and e-learning researcher. Simon is now an Educational Strategic Consultant. An experienced presenter and workshop facilitator. Previous roles include Head of Learning Design at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning (BPP University), Academic Developer (London School of Economics), Director of Teaching and Learning (Massey University - College of Education), Head of Centre for Learning Development (University of Hull), Academic Developer (Open University UK)

4 thoughts on “What is missing from the UKPSF?”

  1. Tēnā koe e Simon.
    Thank you for your reflection and comparison of our Ako Aronui version of the UKPSF. However, I feel there are a few things I need to clarify that may give rise to core issues I see in the UKPSF (which I was given opportunity to comment on in hope they would review now that they have expanded internationally). The following comments are not made to criticise what you say instead they are given more to hold a mirror up to the thoughts that you have shared.

    First your comment re: Ako Aronui falling “short of a reappraisal of the fundamental indigenous approaches to learning”. It is obvious that you speak from your knowing of ako (indigenous approaches to learning) through your experience and engagement within Victoria and Massey however, it appears you have also created expectations from those experiences and then solidified them to how ako should appear. That is, you know ako to “appear” a certain way and if it doesn’t “appear” like that then it is not ako. The reality is that ako is a spectrum in appearance. Always adaptable to meet the learning needs of its community. What makes ako ako is the values and the integrity of relentlessly practicing those values in every context of the learning. It is a way of being. As the facilitator/teacher you are accountable to the community you serve and are measured by the values – you must lead by example. In your comment you have applied your own homogenous Anglo-European-American perception onto ako. Therefore, you yourself are not doing the practice you ask of Advance HEA and the UKPSF. In opening up to other ways of knowing through worldviews you learn that there are a spectrum of interpretations of that knowing that are uniquely individual. However, what connects us all, is that we are human – and humans with needs.

    And just to get the whakapapa (order) correct, Ako Aronui relationship is directly with HEA not via Ako Aotearoa.

    Second is your point on indigenisation. In a Treaty country this can be problematic as it is a relationship between two worldviews. It is a marriage. It would be dangerous if we fall into the trap of trying to indigenise to make everyone here in Aotearoa, Māori. Which is genetically impossible. So what is required are ethical, highly respectful, and humble practices using emotional intelligence. A welcoming into worlds, that take worldviews from the theory of to the experience of. Heart-to-heart conversations and practices rather than head-to-head dialogue. And when you are looking at changing a culture within a university we need to apply the care that is required to navigate the threshold of learning between comfort and anxiety/fear.

    The indigenisation becomes problematic in the UKPSF as to be indigenous refers to being the first peoples of the land. It is about having an intimate understanding and relationship with the land and what it takes to keep the land in balance. Which leads me to point three. Language is important, it is connected to the land. And language is a powerful tool in making shifts in practices. The biggest distinction in language between many indigenous languages and English, and some other European languages is that indigenous languages tend to be verb-centric whereas English is noun-centric. English values the class of a “thing” or “unit” whereas indigenous languages value the experience or as we say mahia te mahi (do the work). The challenge in the UK is that its language history, like its land history, is so fraught with conquests giving birth to the English language used in institutions which reflect that history.

    Taking a different approach. Ako Aronui continues to attend to the issue of language in shifting the tone and vocabulary of the language we use, and that we encourage from our participants. It is a language of care, of aroha. Yes we have use te reo Māori to present a biculutral framework but it is in the continue practice predominantly in English we are able to grow success. We ask the deep questions. We look to see the person that is at the core of the academic. We ask for their story. We use Rose Pere’s definition of “Mauri”. We use Parker Palmer’s questions around who is the teacher who teaches? We use wānanga and internal reflecting to reveal these truths of the authentic self who teaches. So the UKPSF may currently be homogenous and dare I say soul-less, however, it is up to the community to decide how that is to be interpreted, encouraged, and practiced. It is having the courage to do it differently but the responsibility starts with the self. Therefore, I would encourage that if you feel that your criteria 0 is missing from the UKPSF then used that as your lens to practice, and mentor Fellows through the UKPSF. Begin a revolution of care.

    Ngā mihi aroha.

    1. Hi Piki, thank you very much for your commentary and observations. I do not claim to speak for any cultural perspective, even my own dominant culture, rather I aimed to challenge the UKPSF for what I perceive to be an inadequacy as it attempts to expand its international influence. I apologise if I misrepresented the development of Ako Aronui in any way. As a PFHEA I do and intend to continue to (as you suggest) mentor others engagement with the UKPSF and argue that a recognition of personal and cultural epistemologies should be central to any interpretation. Best, Simon

      1. Ngā mihi Simon. Totally agree with the challenge. I am one of a few indigenous members on the Australasian Strategic Advisory Board for HES and I too am highlighting the necessary considerations HEA need to make to be able to build relationships in our part of the world. We are watching the merger to Advance HE and what is occurring in HE sector in the UK with great interest. Kia kaha!

  2. Hi Simon and Piki,
    I am enjoying both of your perspectives, and learning from them. I am an academic developer at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, a UK-style joint venture in China. When I saw the Ako Aronui, I immediately aligned the UKPSF to quotes from Confucius’ Analects to create another perspective for the teachers I work with at my university. My thoughts/feelings, were, ‘of course, why hadn’t I thought of this sooner’. Many faculty commented along the lines that it now had soul, as Piki indicates, others thought it was a useless gesture unnecessarily filling the framework with content. However, we cannot really say we embody the values of the UKPSF as it stands today without doing these things, and we are seeing, as Simon points out, work of this type all over the globe. I think this is epistemic maturation of TNE and international QA, at least I hope so.
    I like Simon’s Zero Values and will work them into staff development material on TNE, but I wonder if many people would agree; for example, I cannot imagine many STEM teachers agreeing with A0. After making the Confucian UKPSF, I am preparing a thought experiment about what I was calling V5, Love of Learning, because it is so evident in his thinking, but I don’t think it is a tangible value that I would ask staff to show. I do in my heart think it is important for expert practice for teaching because there is soul there, but it is more of an aspiration than a value, and perspectival to my own ways of thinking and practicing.

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