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Categories not Levels: HEA Fellowship

The question of whether the four categories of Fellowship, professional recognition from the Higher Education Academy (AdvanceHE), represent a progression framework appears to be one of those perennial discussions. At first glance, it is understandable that it might be interpreted as though individuals must first achieve a D1 (descriptor1) 'level' before moving on the D2 and so on. The truth is slightly more confusing. I believe we should all we use carefully chosen language in identifying the differences between categories of Fellowship by avoiding the implication of levels in D1, D2.... and instead have an active discussion with Faculty about the descriptors and potential labels. In my practice, I insist on discussing the differences between a Teaching Fellowship (D1) and an Academic Fellowship (D2), between that and a Leadership Fellowship (D2) and a Strategic Fellowship (D4).

I believe an accurate interpretation of the UKPSF and its relationship to Fellowship Descriptors across all four categories make it largely incompatible with any institutional promotional structure. Certainly achieving recognition within a category can, and should, generate evidence that can be used as part of an evidence base towards promotion, but tying Fellowship to internal promotion distorts individuals understanding of Fellowship and undermines their active engagement with the Professional Standards Framework.

Below are four videos representing extracts from an institutional Fellowship Seminar recently. They are presented in the order in which they were delivered although each should stand alone. They are:

  • Overview of the UKPSF (Professional Standards Framework)
  • Curating Evidence (putting a portfolio together)
  • Categories of Fellowship (an explanation of why they are NOT levels)
  • Good Standing (staying on top of your Fellowship)

Overview of the UKPSF (Professional Standards Framework)

I do not represent either an authority on the UKPSF nor do I represent the views of the HEA or AdvanceHE. These are my personal views based on having overseen an institutional scheme and written an aligned PGCert, as well as providing some consulting services to a number of UK colleagues in recent years. Other than my publicly stated reservations about the lack of an epistemological referencing within the UKPSF I think it is an essential tool for reflective practice.

Curating Evidence (putting a portfolio together)

Everyone is busy! I suspect we need to do a better job of supporting new Faculty to develop a reflective portfolio from their first day on the job. It should be part of that first on-boarding conversation with their new line manager. Encouraging new staff to document even the most mundane professional observations is necessary but is rarely a skill most of have naturally. This segment makes a few suggestions.

Categories of Fellowship (an explanation of why they are NOT levels)

The Fellowships have four descriptors, one each, obviously. Of course, they are numbered 1 through 4, D1, D2.... So it is natural enough to assume that they are progressive, that they constitute a series of levels. This is not the case. Each descriptor describes the kind of role that someone in HE has and articulates this with reference to the UKPSF. Even if you are an extremely competent academic, engaged in all dimensions of the UKPSF with evidence of your on-going excellence in practice, you cannot assume to be made a Senior Fellow without exploring your practice against this new category's descriptor, essentially the leadership and mentoring of others around learning and teaching. It is important to grasp the notion that longevity and 'excellent in role' is not sufficient to presume eligibility. In each category, there is a distinct focus. This segment explores the four distinct categories as teaching, academic, leadership and strategic roles. I think this makes it easier to unpack them.

Good Standing (staying on top of your Fellowship)

The Higher Education Academy (AdvanceHE) have not detailed any guidelines for what constitutes 'remaining in good standing' as a Fellow, in whichever category it is awarded. But, institutions are encouraged to support Fellows to document their practice and facilitate both reflection and sharing. In theory, an institution's delegated authority to award fellowships through an accredited pathway could be at risk if the HEA chose to audit an institution and found them wanting. It need not be that difficult. Here are a few suggestions.

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