Talking Teaching: Why I became a HEA Fellow – by Beatrice Ollerenshaw

“I hoped that my application would also pave the way for other service staff to do the same – and I certainly couldn’t expect my colleagues to submit Fellowship applications if I didn’t have a go myself.” – Beatrice Ollerenshaw, Academic Registrar, the University of Sunderland

Beatrice Ollerenshaw works as an Academic Registrar at the University of Sunderland and is also a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Here she talks about her journey to Fellowship and how she hopes it will inspire others in professional services to follow in her footsteps, as well as raising the profile of those in similar support roles.

As an administrator, I was initially reluctant to see myself as a Fellow of the HEA. While I work closely with academic colleagues in support of learning, teaching, assessment and programme management, I am very clear that I am a member of the professional services and not an academic. That said, I do have a PGCE from way back and did spend the first years of my career as a school teacher. That gave me a genuine interest in the academic endeavour, some understanding of pedagogy and what it means to teach, and (I hope!) a balanced view of how quality management can be constructive, despite the inevitable need to meet external requirements.

In this context I believe in giving professional recognition for teaching and I had helped more than one academic colleague prepare an ILT application in the pre-HEA world. Since the academic development function lay within my own service, I also oversaw the alignment of our provision with the PSF and managed the HEA accreditation process. As the HEA Fellowship scheme took shape, Sunderland was implementing a learning and teaching plan which included strategic direction for academic staff development and for the recognition of excellence in learning and teaching. As our HEA accreditation was renewed in 2014, we set up the processes by which we would support colleagues to make Fellowship claims at all four levels (D1-D4) and assess them via a scrutiny panel with external membership.

It became increasingly clear that HEA Fellowship was a viable route for members of the professional services – with an emphasis on both words, in which I believe wholeheartedly. As I had always tried to empathise with academic values rather than just seeing quality management as ‘process’, I felt that HEA Fellowship would help to demonstrate the importance of professional skills and understanding in the support function. I suppose that my competitive streak kicked in too. At the same time I felt an obligation, as Director, to set an example. Getting HEA Fellowship would be good for the profile of the professional services. We’re not academics and what we do isn’t always popular but we do try to support the academic endeavour for the benefit of the academic staff, the students and the institution. I hoped that my application would also pave the way for other service staff to do the same – and I certainly couldn’t expect my colleagues to submit Fellowship applications if I didn’t have a go myself.

In the event it was a positive experience. Reflecting on over 30 years of education, work and personal development through the lens of the PSF was interesting and actually very instructive. It wasn’t easy and I tinkered with the application, on and off, for a year before submitting it. There were parts of the PSF which didn’t sit very easily with the CV of a member of the administration – even a senior one who had been responsible for various aspects of strategic development at institutional level and held a number of external roles which evidenced peer recognition. I think that it is even harder for more junior members of the services to make a case for other levels of HEA Fellowship where the criteria are more focused on aspects of the implementation of teaching and assessment. However, I got my Principal Fellowship in January 2015 and by the end of 2014/15 we had a PF in each faculty and in the professional services, which I think reflects the way in which we work together to achieve our goals. I would like to be able to use my Principal Fellowship to help work out what Fellowship means for members of the professional services, to us individually, to our universities, and to the HEA.

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