Leading education-focused career development: towards a common understanding of scholarship and its outputs

The UK HE sector continues to increase its reliance on teaching-focused roles with HESA data reporting 32% of overall academic staff employed on teaching-focused contracts in 2019/20 (HESA, 2021). We adopt the term education-focused to include the variation in career pathway nomenclature across institutions that align to the HESA teaching only category. Some examples include teaching-focused, education and scholarship, teaching and learning.

Unlike research career paths, a common sector approach to promotion for those on ‘teaching and scholarship’ tracks has not yet emerged, leading to variation in practice both at an institutional level and across UK HE. This has contributed to a sense of confusion for those who seek to progress their careers on such tracks. The concerns are increasingly recognised across the sector and emergent work in specific disciplinary areas, notably the UK Business School sector, is now starting to address education-focused career progression e.g. British Academy of Management (Anderson & Mallanaphy, 2020).

Many Universities have developed role descriptions and promotion criteria for education-focused career pathways (Macfarlane, 2011) however, such work has often been undertaken in a reactive manner rather than as part of a sector-wide movement to embed agreed norms. Whilst scholarship is a widely used term in role descriptors and promotion criteria there remains a broad spectrum of definitions of scholarship activity and output (Bennett et al., 2018) leaving any general agreement on its constituent elements largely unresolved (Chick, 2014; Potter & Kustra, 2011). The range of outputs that may be considered to represent scholarship has also been criticised with some concluding that it ‘…has become too inclusive to be useful’ (Canning & Masika, 2020, p. 11). Other significant pressures include but are not limited to the dissociation between disciplinary educational research or scholarship and higher education research (Tierney, 2020).

The consequence is a lack of clarity for those who are seeking to establish education-focused careers (Canning & Masika, 2020). This often leads to a conflation of scholarly teaching with the scholarship of teaching and learning (Potter & Kustra, 2011). The literature broadly agrees that scholarship of teaching and learning typically has a public nature and is characterised by a systematic investigation (Kern et al., 2015). This is confirmed by empirical work with promotion criteria (Vardi & Quin, 2011).

Initial findings from an exploratory study of scholarship criteria by the authors (Smith & Walker, 2021) indicate that scholarship is not clearly defined by Universities, although many offer indicative evidence which can help to clarify the institutional interpretation. Findings also indicated that pedagogic research is frequently used interchangeably with scholarship without a clear explanation of how they differ (Boshier, 2009). They highlighted that progression through the various career levels typically requires refocusing from one’s own practice to a pedagogic research focus.

Institutions offer varying levels of support for those pursuing education-focused careers. This is an essential aspect of any career pathway and previous work published in SEDA Educational Developments (Smith & Walker, 2021) examined a case study from the University of Sussex. In summary, a scholarship working party was established following the creation of the University’s education and scholarship career pathway. This group which benefits from broad representation across the University has worked to develop an institutional definition and support processes for scholarship activity and career planning. An important step included the institutional rollout of personal scholarship plans, designed to support scholarship planning, and provide parity with those on traditional research and teaching tracks who undergo an annual personal research planning cycle. Challenges for the sector remain in responding to the question: ‘How do we value the diversity of experience and knowledge in academic progression?’ (Bradley, 2021). It remains important to establish a parity of esteem rather than perpetuating a deficit narrative related to education-focused career pathways. The first steps to doing so include establishing a clear definition of what constitutes scholarship of teaching and learning vis à vis pedagogic research, rather than adopting it as a catch-all for a broad spectrum of activity (Tight, 2018). Addressing these questions and considering institutional support for the advancement of those in education-focussed roles, is subject of the authors ongoing research with a new publication pending.

Dr Susan Smith PFHEA, Associate Dean (Education and Students), University of Sussex Business School
Dr David Walker PFHEA, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education and Students), University of Brighton


Anderson, L., & Mallanaphy, C. (2020). MKE White Paper—Education Focused Career Tracks in UK Business and Management Schools Current practice and recommendations for progress.

Bennett, D., Roberts, L., Ananthram, S., & Broughton, M. (2018). What is required to develop career pathways for teaching academics? Higher Education, 75(2), 271–286.

Boshier, R. (2009). Why is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning such a hard sell? Higher Education Research & Development, 28(1), 1–15.

Bradley, S. (2021). Call for action. In Academic career progression: Rethinking pathways (p. 43). Advance HE

Canning, J., & Masika, R. (2020). The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL): The thorn in the flesh of educational research. Studies in Higher Education, 0(0), 1–13

Chick, N. L. (2014). Methodologically sound ‘under the ‘big tent’: An ongoing conversation. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 8(2), 1–15

HESA. (2021, January). Higher Education Staff Statistics: UK, 2019/20

Kern, B., Mettetal, G., Dixson, M., & Morgan, R. K. (2015). The role of SoTL in the academy: Upon the 25th anniversary of Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1–14.

Macfarlane, B. (2011). Prizes, pedagogic research and teaching professors: Lowering the status of teaching and learning through bifurcation. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 127–130.

Potter, M., & Kustra, E. (2011). The Relationship between Scholarly Teaching and SoTL: Models, Distinctions, and Clarifications. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5.

Smith, S. & Walker, D. (2021) Pioneering a new career pathway in education and scholarship. Educational Developments. 22(2)

Smith, S. & Walker, D. (2021) Scholarship and academic capitals: the boundaried nature of education-focused career tracks. Teaching in Higher Education

Tierney, A. (2020). The scholarship of teaching and learning and pedagogic research within the disciplines: Should it be included in the research excellence framework? Studies in Higher Education, 45(1), 176–186.

Tight, M. (2018). Tracking the scholarship of teaching and learning. Policy Reviews in Higher Education, 2(1), 61–78.

Vardi, I., & Quin, R. (2011). Promotion and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 30(1), 39–49.

2 thoughts on “Leading education-focused career development: towards a common understanding of scholarship and its outputs

  1. Pingback: Revamping an archaic promotions process and career structure | thesedablog

  2. Pingback: Realigning the staff development offer to new academic career pathways | thesedablog

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