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Every day is a learning day – the impact of D2 Fellowships at The University of Manchester

16 Feb 2022 | Professor Judy Williams With Advance HE recently celebrating more than 100,000 D2 Fellowships (and 155,000+ of all Fellowship categories), Professor Judy Williams, Associate Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students at The University of Manchester shares her reflections on the wide-ranging impact of the Fellowship programme she leads on staff and students.

From humble beginnings, the Advance HE accredited Fellowship programme at The University of Manchester has grown exponentially. This is testament to our commitment to developing a culture of continued enhancement in teaching excellence and the flexibility of the Professional Standards Framework (PSF).

It is no surprise to us that Descriptor 2 (D2) Fellowship is the category we award the most because of the inclusive nature of our programme – which is open to all educators in practice. We are delighted that so many colleagues engage with the programme annually.  

This supports our student-centred ethos in relation to teaching, learning and student support. It is critical that we have the broadest reach possible, and this is reflected in the scope of our awards. These range from undergraduates, lecturers, professional support staff to collaborators in the NHS, business and charity sectors.

The impact of D2 on staff and students

The PSF provides teaching and learning practitioners with a shared vocabulary which they can use to articulate their experience effectively. This standardisation is crucial and ensures that applicants are ‘on the same page.’ There is also a clear requirement to reflect in depth and link this to best practice and pedagogy.

Members of our alumni have described gaining fellowship as “transformative in improving their confidence to pursue opportunities” and that the PSF provides “…a scaffold for continual quality enhancement and innovation.”

What makes the PSF valuable?


The PSF is invaluable thanks to its flexibility, inclusivity and the diverse ways in which it can be applied across a multitude of contexts. Whether you are in professional services (PS), or E-learning, a teaching focused academic or a post-graduate researcher, provided you are supporting students’ learning in some capacity you have the ability to benchmark your experience against the D2 criteria.


We know that holding a fellowship empowers junior colleagues – building confidence and supporting their long-term employability. It is also a key sector-wide mechanism for benchmarking, and in recognition of this we have made our programme accessible and inclusive by design. We are thrilled that colleagues achieving D2 fellowship represent the diversity of our University community, and this is evidenced in our EDI data.


The PSF has stood the test of time because it is both comprehensive and accessible. It manages to consolidate the fundamental elements of ‘areas of activity’, ‘core knowledge’ and ‘professional values’ effectively. Its format is accessible for colleagues new to reflective practice, which helps to improve engagement. It can also be tackled systematically, making it easy to identify where activity can be linked to multiple criteria.

We have high levels of engagement with undergraduate and postgraduate students and in this sense, D2 fellowships are supporting our aim of working across the traditional boundaries of teaching and learning. Whereas on one hand there are ‘learners’ (and consumers of the PSF) and on the other, practitioners reflecting on their own practice; we recognise the value in taking a holistic view of the learning that occurs at this interface.

The importance D2 fellowships to individuals

For colleagues, gaining fellowship is a considerable milestone. It is immediately confidence building and can open doors. D2 covers the fundamental components required for a teaching and learning and/or student-centred career, regardless of specific role or discipline. Time is always a challenge, but gaining fellowship sets educators in practice off on a new path – embedding reflection into their every day. Fostering this culture is helping us change the way in which we engage with colleagues on the frontline.

The institutional impact of D2 fellowships

Institutionally, our experience tells us that the usefulness of fellowship extends beyond CPD. Given the scale of the awards, D2 fellowships are a driving force behind culture change. With the right support and training, the PSF is a framework which can be applied to various settings. Strategic buy-in is key but beyond that, we have been able to benchmark and monitor the impact on career trajectories and apply this across our recruitment, development and promotions criteria.

The evolution of fellowships at Manchester

Our University has operated a form of accredited fellowship scheme since 2008. Since then, the landscape of the higher education sector has changed dramatically but the PSF remains relevant. Despite the advent of technology and the introduction of hybrid and flexible working models (which accelerated rapidly during the Covid-19 pandemic), the framework has stood the test of time. There have been changes to the types of evidence required, and depth of reflection, but its capacity to influence real-life learning environments and aid professional development continues to assist a step-change in student support.

Our achievements

We are proud to be a frontrunner in opening up our fellowship scheme to junior colleagues over the past five years. We have seen a significant increase in undergraduates attaining fellowship and continue to be amazed at the high quality of applications. As a result, we now encourage colleagues to push themselves to apply for D2 fellowship (rather than Associate Fellow). This approach is in alignment to our commitment to work in partnership with students on key student-facing projects. For us, this is win-win. Students are subsequently more interested in teaching and learning and want to gain experience, which enables us to gain high quality feedback on how we can enhance our offer. It also provides us with a pool of highly trained students to work with.

Professor Judy Williams is the Associate Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students at The University of Manchester with a portfolio focusing on inclusivity and engagement. She is a Professor in Academic Enhancement, the Director of the Institute of Teaching and Learning and leads the University's Advance HE accredited fellowship scheme.

At the beginning of February 2022, there are 100,904 Descriptor 2 Fellows and 1,179 of whom are at The University of Manchester.

Karen Hustler, Advance HE Assistant Director Fellowship and Awards, said, "As we celebrate reaching the significant milestone of over 100,000 Fellows (Descriptor 2), it is inspiring to see the way in which The University of Manchester is successfully using this category as an important tool in driving forward culture change in learning and teaching and seeing the positive impact on staff and students as a result."

Earlier this month, Advance HE announced plans for a sector-led PSF review.
Find out more about the review and how you can get involved

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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