Team fist bump above desk
Annual NTF Symposia

Recognising, valuing and rewarding the educational expertise of Professional Services (PS) Colleagues   

Dr Sarah Floyd, Ulster University, and Professor Fiona Smart, Independent Consultant 

I attended the ANTF Symposium in April with the intent to glean ideas that might support my work in developing educators’ expertise and excellence at Ulster University and leading our processes for Education Awards and Fellowship. There were some clear interconnections between sessions, such as being authentic, inclusive and considering wellbeing which resonated with the work I presented on how we can recognise the educational expertise of Professional Services (PS) colleagues. Progress has been made in developing reward and recognition opportunities for the educational achievements of academic staff. However, our PS colleagues who provide key expertise are often less visible as members of the academy (Akerman, 2020) and can be marginalised and excluded from professional development and recognition.  

Fiona and I have both been involved extensively in leading Advance HE recognition opportunities at Ulster University, Edinburgh Napier and the wider sector (Smart et al, 2019). We have championed the inclusiveness of these, and through our encounters with a diverse range of professionals, have only grown in our respect for the critical and expert role they play in enhancing the student learning experience. In our presentation we surfaced some of the voices we have heard and reflected on why they are motivated to claim recognition as HEA fellows for their skills, expertise and legitimate place within this domain.  

88% of those surveyed engaged with Fellowship to “feel valued for their contribution to student learning”.  

“I am very proud of this recognition and was very grateful for the opportunity to have my years of supporting student learning recognised.” (Learning Support, SFHEA) 

62% wanted to use the Fellowship process to develop themselves. It is clear that the reflective nature of making a claim for Fellowship provided space to acknowledge and at times realise for the first time the role and impact they have on student learning. The consequent impact on wellbeing is apparent. 

“It made me appreciate my role as a leader within the university which I had highly underestimated until I started gathering my evidence and evaluated my impact on both lecturers and students’ lives.” (Learning Technologist, SFHEA) 

“It has made me more aware of how PS staff support and impact the student experience.  It has enabled me to encourage members of my team to follow this path for their own development and to know their worth in the HE sector.” (Administration, AFHEA) 

However, starting the process of gaining fellowship is a challenge for some PS staff who may struggle to see how it can reflect their authentic self. Findings from Cathcart et al. (2021) highlight the importance of being judged as ‘belonging’ for non-traditional staff and this resonates with feedback we gathered: 

“Professional services are spoken about as ‘non-academics’ which is quite derogatory, so this qualification shows you as an equal in terms of professional status.” (Learning Technologist, SFHEA) 

We believe that enabling and empowering PS staff to engage with Fellowship has provided an opportunity to raise their profile, to be seen for their authentic expertise and to achieve a legitimisation within the wider academic community.  

Our work highlights a strategic need to consider a more inclusive narrative of ongoing professional recognition that values and includes others who contribute to the student learning experience (Floyd, 2021). 

Image entitled 'Recognising the Expertise of Professional Services Colleagues Who Contribute to Student Learning', shows a diagram with 'High quality student learning experience' at the centre and a range of professional services areas connected around it.
Recognising the Expertise of Professional Services Colleagues Who Contribute to Student Learning


Akerman, K (2020) Invisible imposter: identity in institutions, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 24:4, 126-130, DOI: 10.1080/13603108.2020.1734683​ 

Cathcart, A., Dransfield, M., Floyd, S., Campbell, L.-A., Carkett, R., Davies, V., Duhs, R., & Smart, F. (2021) Tick-box, weasel words, or a transformative experience? Insights into what educators consider the real impact of HEA Fellowships, International Journal for Academic Development, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2021.1938075 

Floyd, S. (2021) Transforming Educational Excellence at an Institutional Scale, in Bradley S. (ed) Academic Career Progression: Rethinking Pathways, Advance HE,​ 

Smart, F., Asghar, M., Campbell, L.-A., & Huxham, M.  (2019) Electing to speak: professional dialogue in the context of Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, International Journal for Academic Development, 24:3, 232-245, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2019.1585356 ​ 

Image: Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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