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Riding the wave: the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, and me

05 Feb 2020 | Paul Bartholomew In recognition of 20 years of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, Paul Bartholomew, incoming (Interim) Vice-Chancellor at Ulster University reflects on the role his award in 2004 has played in shaping his career.

I got my first job in higher education (HE) in August 2001, as the Clinical Placement Facilitator for Diagnostic Radiography at Birmingham City University and in 2004, while at the same institution, I was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship under the then-new (and somewhat short-lived) ‘Rising Star’ category.

It is important to note the context of the opportunity at that time - the landmark White Paper of 2003: The future of higher education had recently been published and it set in play a number of initiatives that really raised the status of learning and teaching in UK HE. Through the White Paper, a range of initiatives came about: the expansion of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme; reward and recognition of teachers in HE; the UK Professional Standards Framework; the Higher Education Academy; and the establishment of the Centres for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (the CETLs).

Although I eventually came to benefit from all of these initiatives (one of perhaps just 10 people nationally to do so), it was the award of a National Teaching Fellowship that was most crucial for me personally - it was this that generated the wave that has swept me along for the duration of my career. It raised my profile within my institution and provided funding support for my doctoral study, funding overseas trips to immerse myself within the community of the International Society of Learning Sciences and allowed me to purchase research equipment.

Along the way I was successful, with colleagues, in securing a good deal of money for my institution to support learning and teaching more generally and this success led to me switching career track from being a teacher of diagnostic radiography to an academic staff developer. It was through this route that I have found myself in a series leadership positions in HE.

As I reflect on that journey, I would contend that the support I received through the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme has been fundamental in shaping my values as well as my career and, as a direct consequence I think, I remain a passionate advocate of learning and teaching as a scholarly activity in higher education. I have sought to champion activities that enhance the learning experiences of students and the working lives of staff and being in a senior position has given me a more influential platform from which to pursue, and support, those dual aims.

It is from this perspective that I find I develop institutional strategies and my experience of having benefited from the scheme personally means that I have a first-hand understanding of its value. Because of this, I have been proactive in all three of the institutions within which I have worked to support the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme - I have acted as a mentor for potential individual applicants and I have championed the scheme more widely across the institution.

My personal experiences of the impact of the scheme is also why I’ve taken a decision to ensure that successful National Teaching Fellow applicants at Ulster University continue to receive a development/enhancement fund (of £5000) to support their work - it’s an investment we choose to make from the Learning and Teaching Strategy Fund.

When the sector has reflected on the value of the various initiatives that cascaded from the publishing of the 2003 White Paper, there seems to have been little explicit consideration of the people-based legacy of those investments. As a consequence of the changes to promotion schemes, the running of the CETLs and indeed the expansion of the National Fellowship Scheme, those investments have yielded value that extends well beyond the duration of the actual funding commitments. Rather, the true long-term value of those initiatives is vested within a large cadre of people across the sector who have developed their careers on the back of those investments in learning and teaching. Consequently, the sector has people within its institutions who are active, and often empowered, champions of learning and teaching. We are vocal, we are informed, we are passionate and many of us are really quite influential too!

The National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, and its support for learning and teaching as a scholarly activity, has shaped and enhanced my career. For a number of years, I’ve had it as my mission to, in turn, shape and enhance learning and teaching at the institutions I’ve had the privilege to serve. This somewhat hidden legacy output of the scheme - the support for the careers of learning and teaching advocates - is really important. I know I would not be where I am today, or be able to effect the change I have, without the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme. I also know I am not alone.


Paul Bartholomew is (incoming) Vice-Chancellor at Ulster University where he has responsibility for all aspects of taught provision. As well as being a National Teaching Fellow (2004), he is a Principal Fellow and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.


Applications for a National Teaching Fellowship 2020 close on Wednesday 18 March 2020. Institutions can nominate up to three individuals for the award. Find out more.

Share your #NTFSis20 story with us on Twitter and join the Advance HE Connect group especially for National Teaching Fellows.

The ANTF Annual Symposium 2020 – A Decade of Change? will be held 5-6 March in Birmingham. Find out more and book your place

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