After four years of trying to get something off my desk, and failing due to all sorts of external factors, I finally put in a submission for a National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) at the start of 2022. To get my application supported internally at Ulster University was a massive achievement for me as I had at last completed an entry, but to win the award is the icing on the cake.
What’s your motive?
We have learned so much from fellow NTF winners who have posted blogs about what makes a successful NTF application. Perseverance, passion, reflection, time and space, are all common themes. For me, what made my application successful are the people and partnerships I have encountered over a 30-year career in higher education. People who have inspired me and made me the educator I am today, to partnerships that have enabled me to develop and transform learning environments. Your ambition may not be personal ambition, but it is the driver, or drivers, that inspire you to seek change and made a difference. My ambition is driven by my own life changing educational experience (being the first in the family to go to university) and the transformation that can take place through access to education and exceptional work-integrated learning.
The NI conflict and policing
Working in a Northern Ireland (NI) based educational environment brings its own set of challenges. The legacy of the conflict continues to have a negative impact on the highly segregated learning environment in NI where contact with young people from “the other community” is often limited (McAlister, 2021). This segregated environment creates specific challenges around policing and criminal justice where policing has been the visible contested symbolism of the new NI. The extent of the legacy of violence, suspicion and political contention over policing has left a deep imprint on communities, politics and professional approaches to learning and accreditation.
I first started working within policing over 20 years ago. A colleague asked me why I wanted to put myself forward for the NTF, focusing on my role within police education specifically. I reflected on my first experience in the subject area in co-designing an Access Diploma for the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust (PRRT) in Belfast. Clients of PRRT at that point in time were former employees of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), an organisation that had been incorporated into the new Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) following the recommendations of the Patten Report (1998), and for those serving officers of the new PSNI who were shortly due to retire. Many former officers left the RUC with no formal qualifications, and even though they had many years of experience they found themselves unable to apply for jobs. Listening to the harrowing experiences of former RUC officers who were supported by PRRT was a core driver for me to ensure that those working in policing and associated services would never again be in a position where they left their organisations with no accreditation of their professional learning and development. I think about those first applicants to the Access Diploma often, and the impact of the award on their lives and the lives of the people around them.
A partnership of equals
Ulster University has worked in partnership with the PSNI to co-design and accredit programmes of learning for new entrants to the organisation and for current employees.
Policing has moved to degree level entry in Great Britain over the last two years and standardised through the College of Policing (CoP) Policing Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF). A joint PSNI/UU work integrated degree is not part of the PEQF but has been designed to meet the specific policing challenges in NI.
Stakeholder engagement and programme design around policing due to cultural and political challenges in NI required building a ‘volunteer army’ (after Kotter, 2012) of internal (Ulster) and external stakeholders (eg PSNI, CoP, Policing Board NI, Police Federation, political parties). This engagement is essential to change what can be fixed mindsets and delivered a meaningful shift in PSNI Student Officer/Probationer level education.
Partnerships only ever work where both parties are equals. There are no hidden secrets to partnership success – at the heart of any strong partnership lies respect. Respect builds trust, and it is trust that creates the platform for impactful change to happen.
Doing something different can sometimes seem like a Herculean task within the context of HE and other administrative and cultural structures. I have been blessed to work with people and partners who hold similar values and have taken leaps of faith to bring in regulatory and other changes to allow for new innovations in course provision and delivery.
Making a difference
If you are considering putting forward an NTF application, start planning and think about what the award would mean not only to you, but to your team, your students and stakeholders, and your institution.
The award of a NTF is a source of immense pride to me as I am privileged to work with an awesome team at Ulster University, at the PSNI College, and across other agencies in NI who have made such a difference to the delivery of front-line services. This award is as much for them as it is for me.
Don’t be put off by the time and effort required to craft an application. It is worth it to gain the recognition for your own achievements – and equally the achievements of the people and partnerships that work alongside you.
In memory of the late Professor Bill Clarke, who understood the power of partnerships.
Creating innovative programmes that enhance capability and capacity in work-based settings has been a constant feature of Professor Ruth Fee’s career at Ulster University for over 30 years. She has driven key educational partnerships within the criminal justice sector that are critical to front line service delivery and transforming practice.
Nominations for the 2023 National Teaching Fellowship Scheme and Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence are now open.