Amidst the flurry of emails about moving to remote/online/blended teaching, and worries about the sectors finances, the Academic Professional Apprenticeship (APA) programme at Exeter quietly received notification that the external Endpoint Assessor – Advance HE – had passed the nation-wide first end-point assessment for the APA research pathway.
Dr Ian Ashton, Lecturer in Offshore Technology and located on the Cornwall Penryn Campus of the University of Exeter has been the first academic to reach this sector-wide milestone which he achieved in an outstanding style with a distinction. He reflected: “this course forces you to take time for reflection and personal development, which allowed me to develop in all areas of my practice, giving me space to become a more-rounded academic and better understand the role that I have taken on”.
So, how did we get here? A lot of planning is the first answer. Exeter created a support hub dedicated to degree apprenticeships and appointed a sector expert, Adele Dawson, with experience of running apprenticeships in Further Education. Exeter’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education, Professor Tim Quine, also served on the national trailblazer group for the Academic Professional Apprenticeship standard. Almost a year of detailed planning including fortnightly joint meetings with the degree apprenticeship experts and the academic team meant Exeter was one of the first providers to convert its Advance HE accredited Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PCAP) into a higher apprenticeship: the Academic Professional Programme. Key to success once the structures were in place was appointing the right full-time lecturer to support the apprentices.
Since September 2018, we have been running new ‘tripartite review meetings’ – an integral part of all apprenticeship programmes. The fundamental principles we apply are: rapport building and empathy; empowering individual’s decision-making and engagement with their own academic practice; and the co-production of timescales and tangible actions/next steps. We also discuss formative reflective tasks which build towards different elements of the end-point assessment. The model we chose includes: an individual participant – the apprentice; their Academic Lead or other nominated colleague as a department mentor – representing the institution as the employer; and a programme mentor who is a Lecturer in Academic Practice – representing the institution as the training provider. This is our top tip for these meetings because not only do they support a participant’s progress on the programme, but they also provide regular, meaningful opportunities for informed and tailored critical reflection on academic practice in the round (including teaching practice, research and scholarship, personal tutoring, admin, outreach, public engagement and so on). We have found that this approach has been well-received by the Academic Leads as well as the participants.
We have also integrated the evidence required for the Endpoint Assessment (EPA) from the start of the programme. Participants have thus been continually building their academic credentials to be awarded a Postgraduate Certificate of Academic Practice and Fellowship of Advance HE through our internal University of Exeter accreditation process. Simultaneously, they were building their portfolio for the EPA, for example, a section of the Fellowship application form could be used as evidence within the EPA portfolio.
So, what is next? Another of the most popular aspects of the programme based on participant feedback, which was also true of the previous PCAP programme, is that it brings newer academics from across the institution together. Having moved all teaching online, we are exploring creative ways of maintaining this community aspect. We have scheduled optional online catch-up meetings for participants where we chat about this and that over a suitable hot beverage.
The apprenticeship structure of having two pathways – research and teaching specialism – has been a great help in achieving relevance to academic staff in a wide range of roles whilst still enabling meaningful conversations about how these roles fit together and inform each other.
We hope that the Academic Apprenticeship continues to go from strength to strength. With degree and higher apprenticeships in the HE sector still on the rise, we are also honoured to be at the forefront of supporting colleagues with a programme that has the flexibility to be tailored to individual and departmental interests and priorities, within the context of a nation-wide standard for Academic Professionals.
Professor Anna Mountford-Zimdars, First Director of the Academic Apprenticeship Programme (previously known as PCAP) and Professor of Social Mobility, Dr Lisa Alberici, Lecturer in Academic Practice, both in the Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter