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How do we support dual professionals in higher education?

30 Apr 2019 | Saad Qureshi Following on from the successful AdvanceHE and GuildHE symposium on Practice Informed Learning, Saad Qureshi, UK Dean at SAE Institute and a dual professional, shares what he delivered in his short pitch to the attendees on the day, and what you can do to support your dual professionals.

Following on from the successful AdvanceHE and GuildHE symposium on Practice Informed Learning, Saad Qureshi, UK Dean at SAE Institute and a dual professional, shares what he delivered in his short pitch to the attendees on the day, and what you can do to support your dual professionals.  


The symposium was one of those rare events where everyone was buzzing from the excitement and ideas that were overflowing. We had two overarching questions to answer: what are the challenges that dual professionals face, and how can we better support them in their journey through higher education?

Dual professionals in the case of practice informed learning are those who combine a background of working in industry with a career in teaching. They could balance both on a part-time basis or can make a full switch from industry to academia. They offer students incredible insight into the real world of work, they challenge the status quo and provide fresh perspectives on courses based on ‘live content’ they bring from their workplace. 

As a result, a challenge exists in supporting their transition into teaching equipping them with the appropriate knowledge and tools to support students. With their unique experience, and therein lies another challenge in understanding how we can cultivate their identity and sense of belonging.

By the end of the symposium we had collectively come up with some answers to the challenges. 

Whole institution approach 

In my pitch earlier that day designed to spark debate for the round table discussions, I had advocated for a whole institution approach to supporting and developing dual professionals every step of the way through their journey.

As a starting point, many dual professionals find their way into higher education through the ‘master class’ model. Through personal connections or their own profile, they are approached because of their specialist expertise to deliver a one-off session to students. Most find it rewarding and return to deliver similar sessions in the future. Once they have had a taste, this can lead to a more involved relationship with an institution. 

Others may seek opportunities to work with institutions as they want to give back. Somewhere along the way they would have been inspired by a guest speaker or teacher themselves and they would like to do the same. For others, who run their own business for instance, it may be a way of extending the social value of their business and contributing to society.

Whatever their route into HE, it is important to note that for many they will not have made a conscious choice in the first instance to enter higher education as a career. I can tell you that as a dual professional I certainly didn’t expect to be in HE for this long and always thought I would eventually return to running a business. Transitioning and support at key stages of the staff journey or life cycle couldn’t be more important. 

So this has implications for the recruitment and on boarding process. Just as our students are heterogeneous so too are our staff. But are staff trained to support dual professionals and academics differently during the recruitment and on boarding process? Is there even an acknowledgement that their route into HE is different and there experience and credentials will not be the same? Do we have tailored assessment activities in the recruitment processes designed to bring the best out of dual professionals?

Building a sense of community is also important because many dual professionals are part-time staff. How do you facilitate engagement between part time and full practitioners and academic staff who visit the campus on different days? At SAE Institute we pair new industry practitioners with existing dual professionals in a mentoring scheme. We don’t take for granted that every individual is the same. We go out of our way to create an inclusive environment, providing hot desk space in the main faulty office where full-time staff are based and ensure staff sessions or briefings are repeated on both sides of the week.

The dual professional identity – hard and soft approaches

Many dual professionals I have spoken to express that the biggest challenge they faced when they first started was that they didn’t know what an appropriate teaching style was. They wondered whether it would be similar to their style of engaging senior leaders in business. One lawyer said, for example, that he did not know how to take a legal contract and translate that into teaching content. 

I know this feeling all too well. Having worked in the charity sector, I entered academia later. I didn’t know how to use my experience from working on social issues to bring these to life in the classroom. Until I discovered a particular pedagogy called Social Justice and Education for Sustainable Development. For me, it was empowering to have a direct connection between my work and higher education. It gave me purpose and meaning and a sense that I was making more of a contribution. 

I explored how the dual identity led to two teaching approaches adopted by the dual professional; the hard and soft approach. The hard approach is where the dual professional takes the tough environment of industry that is fast-paced with strict deadlines and uses the same technique when teaching students. It may also include the lecturer taking on a real-life ‘role’ in the classroom of a film producer, with students as film editors, on a Film course for example. At SAE we utilise project-based learning which suits this hard approach as students have clear deliverables on their projects and have to meet their milestones which could include conducting market research or testing the quality of sound in a short documentary before releasing it. In the real world, failure to meet them could lead to major consequences such as losing a client or going over budget on a film production. This hard approach has been received generally well by most students, improving attendance, and stimulating intellectual curiosity. 

The soft approach is opposite to the above. The dual professional, often because of their own personal beliefs, limited confidence or unawareness of the best approach, choose to educate the students about the practical issues faced in their fields but without immersing them in such realities through the classroom design or content. This approach can be effective too in providing exposure to students, and more importantly helps the dual professional experiment and find the right style of teaching and delivery for them. 

How do you support and navigate the experience of your dual professionals? 

Hear more from Saad at the GDP: Governance for small, specialist or independent providers event.

Saad Qureshi is the UK Dean at SAE Institute, the world’s largest creative media education provider. He is a Principal Fellow of Advance HE and has developed a range of training programmes for industry and dual professionals. You can find out more on his blog including a case study on industry practitioners.

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