Although the HEA does not define who ‘ought’ to be a fellow, many have found that colleagues outside of a narrow norm can face barriers to accreditation. Some face barriers through their own self-belief: ‘I am just a technician/learning advisor/library staff… so I wouldn’t be able to get it’. And others may face barriers due to subconscious or unintended assumptions made by those who create schemes or resources that help people compile their submissions. This could result in specific language patterns used or narrow examples given, potentially making people outside of this feel it’s not for them.
I had not realised until I decided to apply for Principal Fellowship (PF) that I had to face these same barriers. My journey started on a train travelling back to Lancaster from a HEA event in Cardiff. Luckily I was able to sit with the lovely Ruth Pilkington who asked me why I was not yet a PF and my instant reply was ‘Oh I couldn’t get that, I am just an SL’. She quite rightly gave me a stern talking to and I agreed to have a look at the process.
It was months later before I actually started to compile my application. Intellectually I believed that I could evidence how I fulfilled all the criteria however I was still facing the same hesitation of actually committing to this or even telling anyone else that I was thinking about applying. ‘Just an SL’ was definitely a factor plus when I looked through our internal literature and guidance for PF applicants it was all geared to senior staff members and thus the assumption was that only these people could be strategic influencers in learning and teaching.
Key support via Karen Hustler and the HEA recognition team plus a D4 consultancy day finally gave me the self-belief that I needed to actually apply. Fast-forward to September 2017 when I was successful at my first attempt. Like all applicants, the process of reflection, gathering evidence and engaging with advocates has been a truly rich, enabling and rewarding experience that I recommend to anyone. I have looked back at my practice, my actual work activities and the wide ranging impact that these have had on my institution and I feel proud of being an SL and move forward with increased confidence and ability.
So, if you are thinking about Fellowship but then hear the little voice inside telling you that you cannot because ‘you are just….’ Please ignore it. Have a look at the criteria for the level of fellowship that you want and decide honestly if you can demonstrate this or not. If you can, then do it - no matter what role you have or what others may say.