A Research – Teaching Nexus: Gaining Higher Education Academy (HEA) accreditation based on supervisory activities.


Academic staff, postdoctoral fellows and indeed postgraduate students are being strongly encouraged to gain recognition for their teaching through accreditation by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and also reflect on and develop their roles as teachers in higher education. This reflects today’s academic job market where posts, certainly in teaching but increasingly also in research, have a requirement for both teaching experience and accreditation by the HEA or equivalent. To support this, the University of Edinburgh is actively promoting HEA accreditation through the Institute for Academic Development’s (IAD) Edinburgh Teaching Award (EdTA) and related schemes.

The HEA defines teaching using the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF), which has three “Dimensions”: Areas of Activity, Core Knowledge, and Professional Values. This underpins applications for the 4 levels of Fellowship of the HEA (Associate Fellow, Fellow, Senior Fellow, Principal Fellow). Not surprisingly, the main focus has centred on recognisable strands of teaching including didactic lectures, tutorials, and demonstrating, and is perhaps somewhat dominated by consideration of undergraduate teaching, and the mentoring/coordinating/management roles associated with these activities.

Supervision of students undertaking research is also clearly described in this framework. In April 2016 the HEA hosted a webinar and released a document outlining how doctoral (and by implication masters and undergraduate) supervision can be interpreted as teaching and mapped onto these three dimensions of the UKPSF. It represents an important opportunity for academic staff and postgraduate students active in supporting students in research, to gain HEA accreditation.

In order to promote this new approach to staff and students, we organised a session through the Little France Post Doc Society with support from the IAD (contact Brian.McHugh@ed.ac.uk). Two post-doctoral Scientists who had recently been awarded Fellowship of the HEA were present to help answer questions.  Eighteen other staff and students attended the session.

The different parts of the session were:

  • An explanation of the 4 levels of HEA Accreditation and the different routes   available at UoE
  • Describing the UKPSF Dimensions of the Framework
  • Outlining the types of CPD and educational research to support an application
  • Breakout groups to reflect on their roles and responsibilities in their supervision of students
  • Feedback from breakout groups
  • Key dates for EdTA intakes

 Some of the positive feedback received:

“It made me realise that I do have enough experience to apply for these awards – this was my goal for the meeting so I view it as a success”

“Encouragement in recognising value of own activities – Understanding value of doing formal accreditation”

“I really liked the session.  It has given me a view of the possibility of getting accredited even If most of my teaching is through supervision.  Also it has shown the importance of entering the process, for me, my students and some of my colleagues and I am going to talk to them about how to go about getting accredited”

This latter quotation emphasises how we are not only able to inform colleagues for their own aspirations, but also to illustrate how they can mentor colleagues and PhD students to engage with the process.

Some feedback indicating how we could improve:

“I didn’t have any knowledge of the EdTA before attending, so a more structured introduction to this and precisely what it involves would be beneficial”.

“Is EdTA nationally/internationally recognised?”

“Advantages and disadvantages of different routes to accreditation could have been better clarified”

The way forward:

This represents a clearly signposted path for academic staff and trainees at the research-teaching nexus that predominates at the University of Edinburgh, to gain nationally recognised accreditation for their contribution to teaching. This type of introductory session should be offered more widely across schools and colleges, together with consideration how best to support these staff to gain accreditation.

Next steps:

Find out more about the various routes for accreditation supported by the IAD.

Read more accounts from lecturers on how the Edinburgh Teaching Award has developed their teaching practice on the Teaching Matters blog.

Review the revised Exemplars for Excellence outlining how to achieve promotion through teaching development and excellence.

See the Higher Education Academy’s UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) Dimensions of the Framework for Doctoral Supervisors

Chris Harlow

Chris Harlow is a Lecturer based in the Centre for Reproductive Health. Chris has a background in basic science research in the ovary, and an involvement in teaching and leading teaching programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level in biomedical science. He has a special interest in integrating on line and digital learning into the curriculum, exemplified by the use of Wikipedia as a teaching platform. Chris is currently undertaking the Edinburgh Teaching Award towards Senior Fellow.

Simon Riley

Simon Riley is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Student Selected Components in the undergraduate medical curriculum at the Edinburgh Medical School based in the Centre for Reproductive Health. His main teaching interest is in experiential learning at the research-teaching nexus, which he is currently exploring in a secondment to the Institute for Academic Development. Simon is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He found the process of reflecting on his teaching when applying for this really insightful. He is currently undertaking the Edinburgh Teaching Award towards Principal Fellow.

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