How do we define ‘teaching excellence’ in an increasingly globalised world?

“In today’s interconnected, multicultural and globalised world, having a definition of teaching excellence that only works in one place, culture or language is meaningless”

‘What is teaching excellence?’ is a question we ask a lot. We ask it to ourselves, to our award winners and to our members. Predictably, we tend to get wildly different answers depending on who we ask, says Advance HE’s Assistant Director – International, Becky Smith.

A National Teaching Fellowship award winner working at a circus school in Canada once said it was a ‘magic trick’, and for many it may be. Ask a student who their best teacher is, or was, and they’ll be able to tell you in a flash, but they’re far less likely to be able to tell you why.

This presents a problem for an agency like Advance HE, where a large part of our work is focused on the development of teaching and learning across the globe. How exactly do you define teaching excellence? And how do you define it in such a way that it is universally acknowledged around the world? In today’s interconnected, multicultural and globalised world, having a definition that only works in one place, culture or language is meaningless.

The quest to answer this question led us to consult with the sector and develop the UK Professional Standards Framework, a framework which benchmarks success within HE teaching and learning support. Demonstrating that your teaching practice fulfils the standards of the PSF, and therefore achieving a Fellowship in one of four categories, is now a widely accepted and globally-recognised demonstration of teaching excellence. Having undertaken the process, Fellowship application provides a rich opportunity to reflect on your teaching journey and is flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of teaching practice and contexts.

A major boon of the Fellowship scheme, and its wide-reaching adoption, is the impact it has on transnational education and international staff mobility. The opportunity to share best practice around the globe allows teaching and learning development to take place in perpetuity. Academics recognise and value the Fellowship scheme as something which is a vital part of their professional development, while also maximising the value provided to students, particularly in transnational institutions.

Fatema Frutan, Professional Development Unit Specialist at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Bahrain believes that it’s the impact on students which demonstrates the value of Fellowship most clearly, saying that “adhering to the highest standards in teaching and learning is reflected in the student experience” and “students are the most significant factor as the PSF enhances the learning process. It also allows them to familiarise themselves with the professional standard” for when they progress into academia.

Tenia Kyriazi, a Principal Fellow at Middlesex University Dubai, considers Fellowship to be “essential in ensuring quality in TNE ventures” and that “Fellows are recognised for excellence in teaching and supporting learning and they are distinguished for their pedagogic practice and their commitment in mentoring others”.

Significantly, the growing community of Fellows around the world provides academics with support, connection and continuous learning about teaching practices. She explained: “Being part of a global community provides access to a wide network of like-minded professionals. I feel that I belong to a wide community of practice which can help me to further improve my practice and explore professional development synergies.”

Charlie Reis, Director of the Educational Development Unit and FHEA at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, echoes those thoughts. “TNEs in China, they often ask both about Fellowship and the post-nominal letters associated with it, so the ‘calling card of excellence’ Advance HE writes about is real. Also, participation in the wider Advance HE community and events is invaluable to what it brings back to XJTLU.”

The Fellowship scheme continues to go from strength to strength, and the more widely it is adopted around the world, the stronger the individual recognition becomes and the stronger the community is. It is only with a strong and active global teaching community that true excellence in teaching practice can be shared around the world. Find out more about Advance HE Fellowship here.

About the author: Becky Smith is Assistant Director – International at Advance HE. Becky’s role is to assist governments, national agencies, institutions and individuals on a global basis to enhance performance and achieve their goals to develop higher education provision. Prior to joining Advance HE, Becky spent 20 years in academic and administrative roles within universities in North America, Asia and Europe. She is a member of the Universities UK International Strategic Advisory Board, a member of the International Advisory Committee at China’s prestigious Peking University and a Lead Technical Advisor on HE Leadership and Teaching Quality for the UK Government’s ‘Skills for Prosperity’Programme.