I became a Principal Fellow in January 2017 after submitting additional evidence in support of sections D4.2: Strategic leadership to enhance student learning; and D4.3: Policies and strategies. I received very helpful feedback from the anonymous reviewers and also had a very constructive telephone conversation with Sally Bradley, Academic Lead in Accreditation, Recognition and Reward at the HEA. My application centred on my strategic influence and leadership in the discipline of psychology and I drew in particular from three key aspects of my experience. Firstly as Head of the Psychology Department at the University of Westminster, and secondly in my role within the British Psychological Society as Chair of the Qualifications Committee overseeing quality and standards for trainee practitioner psychologists. The third key element related to my academic writing and scholarship in the field of compassion – or lack of – in higher education.
Reflecting upon this now in this blog, I realised that in my initial submission I had done the ‘classic women’s thing’ – in other words, I had undersold my achievements and their strategic impact. In the concluding reflections included in my amended application just over a year ago I wrote:
This application for PFHEA has been an interesting and challenging process. It has taken far longer than I initially anticipated, and has helped me draw together the many strands of my professional and academic career and journey thus far. I hope it will help me make a difference to future generations of students, and the many people who help them learn, and who also learn with them.
There are a couple of points to note here. It took longer than I initially anticipated because sometimes the time I had set aside to work on the application, often weekends, was taken up with unplanned but necessary visits to see my mum who lived a long distance away. I am reminded of a presentation I heard in the run up to our institutional Athena SWAN application, where women presented their ‘academic’ CV and publications, and their ‘real’ CV and publications. So for me, 2016 would look like this:
- Waddington, K. (2016). The compassion gap in UK universities. International Practice Development Journal, 6(1). Available at:
- Mum slipped in the shower, a bit shaken up but no bones broken!
Anyone applying for Principal Fellowship may find themselves at a point in their life where they are combining career with caring responsibilities, and we need to develop self-compassion, and compassionate organisational practices and cultures. This is an important priority for individuals and institutions, and the merger of the HEA, ECU and LFHE is timely.
The need for compassion is also timely as we navigate the turbulent, and sometimes toxic, times ahead for teaching. John Smyth’s (2017) book The Toxic University: Zombie Leadership, Academic Rock Stars, and Neoliberal Ideology, published by Palgrave is but one example of this. For me, being a Principal Fellow in these turbulent times brings with it a responsibility to ensure that academics entering the career pipeline are supported in the early stages of their career to develop compassionate academic practices.
Call to Action
We have to ‘dare to care’ about our students, our colleagues, our institutions and ourselves. This involves kindness, humanity, courage and compassionate academic leadership. What is stopping us, what needs to change, and how can a community of HEA Fellows make a difference in difficult times?
For further information about HEA Fellowship please click here.