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“Are we there yet?" The emerging benefits of Principal Fellowship

03 May 2019 | Dr. Seán Bracken Almost one year on from being awarded Principal Fellowship, Dr. Seán Bracken from the University of Worcester reflects upon how Fellowship has expanded his professional horizons.

Almost one year on from being awarded Principal Fellowship, Dr. Seán Bracken from the University of Worcester reflects upon how Fellowship has expanded his professional horizons.

Sean-Bracken

As the author Ursula Le Guin observed in her riveting science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end”. In June of last year, I became a Principal Fellow, and achieving this external recognition from national and international peers has provided me with a welcome vantage point, one that at once facilitates reflective glances towards past achievements, while also acting as a dynamic space to envision strategically what may lay ahead.

In my experience, the crafting of a personal case for Principal Fellowship was rather more like the work of a long-distance runner than of that of a team player. That said, the writing process itself acted as a valuable opportunity to explore how my achievements had been shaped and supported by other colleagues with whom I have worked. It’s helpful to tease out the complex interrelationships between the ways we manage to effect change and how such changes are, in turn, affected by wider organisational cultural enablers or barriers. For example, much of my claim for Principal Fellowship relied upon case studies focused on the formation and impacts of inclusive policies and practices both within, and beyond, the University of Worcester.

 Clearly, the activities I’d undertaken to advance that agenda were part of a wider positive consideration of diversity and inclusion within the University. In this context, it’s noteworthy that earlier this year, according to the Times Higher Education Global Impact rankings, Worcester was ranked No.1 in the UK, and 26th globally, for Quality Education. Further, our combined efforts focused on the areas of inclusive assessment have also been sector-leading and last year, the 2018 results of the University Post Graduate Taught Education Survey revealed that the University was rated second nationally in terms of assessment and feedback.  

An organisational focus on inclusion provides an ambience of supportive creativity when it comes to innovating and making suggestions for future directions.  For me, the emerging benefits of Principal Fellowship include being able to draw upon attainment of such standing to further influence the culture of inclusivity, particularly through the application of Universal Design for Learning. There is also greater scope to explore how learning successes at our own university may have relevance beyond the University, impacting more widely on the lives of students, particularly in the Global South. Conversely, there is welcome opportunity for our organisation to learn from other cultural practices.

In this regard, I’m convinced that my having Principal Fellowship has significantly strengthened capacity within our School of Education to secure funding from the British Academy for two learning, teaching and research projects in higher education. The first of these involves working closely with colleagues here at Worcester and at UNESP in Brazil where we are using Lesson Study to capture the experiences of traditionally marginalised students as they experience assessment processes. Further, we have recently been successful in an application to support academic writing and editorial skills of colleagues in Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia who wish to establish an online journal with the aim of strengthening the quality of HE experiences for students in North Africa and beyond.

So, gaining Principal Fellowship has metaphorically and literally involved a broadening of horizons. It involves an exciting and challenging capacity to share learning with colleagues across the globe. As I journey along the way I realise that, to some extent, I am an ambassador for Fellowship, and in that capacity I’ve encouraged and supported some international colleagues (as well as ones who are closer to home!) to explore what Principal Fellowship might mean for them and for their advancement along their own educational journeys. 

Dr. Seán Bracken, PFHEA is Learning and Teaching Coordinator for the School of Education at the University of Worcester. He is also lead co-editor of the recently published ‘Transforming Higher Education through Universal Design for Learning: An International Perspective’.

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