Surfacing and accelerating learning: introducing the Edinburgh Award


The Edinburgh Award is an initiative that recognises students’ involvement with co- and extra-curricular activities while at University. It also seeks to enhance the learning and development opportunities these activities provide and encourage students to see the relevance of these activities in preparing them for their future.

The Award was piloted in 2011-12 and the beginning of our work on the Edinburgh Award was prompted in part by the development of Higher Education Achievement Reports (HEARs).  We wanted to engage pro-actively with the HEAR and use it to benefit student learning from co- and extra-curricular activity.  The HEAR presented a valuable opportunity and we wanted our response to further support our students in building the strongest set of graduate attributes, drawing on all parts of their lives and strengthening their long-term employability.

There are currently over 70 different versions of the Edinburgh Award recognising various student activities including part-time work experience, student involvement in the media, peer-assisted learning facilitation and charity fundraising. While the overall structure and journey is the same, each version of the Award is tailored to a particular activity type or theme.  Through this, we achieve consistency and quality, at the same time as a learning experience that is truly tailored for the students involved. Through tailored versions, the Edinburgh Award taps into students’ interests and passions, and allows us to surface and accelerate the learning from co- and extra-curricular activities.

Regardless of their starting point, the Edinburgh Award has been developed with the aim of helping our students to excel, increase their impact and stand out from the crowd in whatever circumstance or role they find themselves, now and in the future.  Therefore, instead of having a fixed and defined standard for students to achieve, the Award encourages, facilitates and rewards an approach of:

  • identifying what it means to excel, both personally and for the current role/circumstance;
  • working purposefully and strategically towards this, translating and applying learning and abilities between situations; and
  • maximising the positive impact on the surrounding context – people/organisation(s).

Wrapped around a variety of co- and extra-curricular activities, and run by staff involved with those activities, the Edinburgh Award encourages a learning environment which combines practically-based, peer-to-peer sessions and discussions, helping students see the link between their underlying activity and their own employability. This approach allows high-impact communities of students to develop who can learn from and support one another in an open and honest environment. These are communities and environments where learning from things that go wrong is as equally encouraged and celebrated as learning that comes from success.

Each year, student evaluation data from the Award highlights the beneficial impact on students’ sense of preparedness for the future. In the academic year 2015-16, nearly 95% of Award completers felt the Award supported them to develop new skills and abilities and over 95% felt an increase in their confidence as a result of the Award. And it is not only the students who report positively – staff who run versions of the Award report an increased student commitment to the underlying activity and the ability to engage with students in a way that is truly relevant to them.

Next steps:

Find out more about the Edinburgh Award on our website.

If you are a staff member interested in wrapping the Award around an activity then please get in touch by email:

Kirsty Stewart

Kirsty Stewart is the Edinburgh Award Coordinator at the University of Edinburgh. Coming from a background in higher education Careers Service work and offshore logistics, in 2013 she joined the University’s Employability Consultancy and is now responsible for supporting the expansion, enhancement and day-to-day running of the Edinburgh Award, providing informed advice and support to academic and non-academic staff across the University and facilitating increased student uptake of the Award.

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