A muse on what it means to be professionally recognised….

This entry has been taken from a recent HEA blog titled ‘A muse on what it means to be professionally recognised….’ By our Vice convenor Alison to start a bit of a discussion around professional recognition and professionalism. This entry is taken from the HEA blog here but is copied below for ease.


A muse on what it means to be professionally recognised….

 I might be a PF but my mother’s a Lady….

Last weekend was my mum’s 80th birthday. My daughter and son combined to buy their nanny a fabulous present – they bought her a plot of land in the grounds of a Scottish castle and a certificate of entitlement to be called Lady Dorothy of Droon (for rather a modest price too I thought).

She was fair chuffed to say the least although only after she enquired that it wasn’t a six foot plot was it? So not only had my mother become an octogenarian she had also become a Lady! But will becoming a member of the aristocracy change life for my mother in any way other than having a new title?

Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never…

 I recently gained the new title of Principal Fellow (UKPSF) and whilst fair chuffed myself, I have been reflecting on how others might perceive the value of gaining professional recognition – is it, or could it be more than just a symbolic title?  Some universities are setting targets that 100% of their staff gain these titles.

Whilst I might take a jaundiced view of this as yet another metric for institutional competitive positioning, at the level of the individual teacher and the teaching sector what might this new institutional driver mean? Unlike most other professionals, teachers in Higher Education in the UK have no professional body and yet our national framework asks us to demonstrate professionalism in our roles and practice.

So does the process of becoming a professional result in  more than just a symbolic title and could it impact on the professionalism of the individual – on how we act, the knowledge we develop and the values we hold – and importantly can it impact on the professionalism of the sector?

Symbols and values?

My research looks specifically at professionalism for teaching in HE emerging from the interaction of teachers, individually and collectively, with the professional values of the UKPSF. I have explored how teachers make sense of these as symbols which carry the sector’s intentions and the expectations for how teachers should behave and who they should be if they wish to be recognised as ‘professional teachers’.

How teachers respond, and their collective practice, can be perceived as contributing to the emergence of a form of professionalism for teaching in HE. I have chosen to focus on teachers’ interactions with the slightly neglected dimension of the professional values of the UKPSF, comprising of four somewhat nebulous statements.

I think the professional values have more to offer in demonstrating how teachers in Higher Education can develop a personal teacher identity and practice and in doing so co-evolve a sense of, or form of professionalism for teaching in HE in the UK.

Different forms of professionalism have emerged over the years. Traditional forms such as medicine and law where the professional occupation carried authority; professionals were valued as those with specialist technological knowledge and service who were accountable to their occupation.

Over the years the creep of professionalism across many, previously non-professional, occupations can be perceived to have extended beyond providing technical expertise to utilising a symbolic, managerial appeal.  This has been legitimised as the profession’s responsibility to maintain a stable society through providing highly structured and accountable services.

The ‘appeal’ of this form of professionalism responds to an individual’s needs, as a social being, to be part of a social grouping with high social status. Such professions can be viewed as based on a value of compliance and that professional practice is determined in part by pre-set competences that structure the professional and its practices (1).

These competences exert a ‘disciplinary’ power over the functioning of the profession: in other words these competences index the prevailing policy or macro view of ‘expected’ professional practice.

Too gloomy Foucauldian perspective of professionalism? …

 …so  let’s take more optimistic view for a more liberal educationalist form of professionalism for teaching in HE (2). Going back much further Aristotle argued that professional practice was determined by the concepts of phroenesis and praxis.

Phronesis is a disposition to act in a morally good and true manner and to take wise and deliberate action (3). Praxis has less instrumental aims and views practice from the perspective of sustainability of human flourishing and a commitment to the phronesis disposition – think wisely and take action that might be creative or risk but which has moral purpose (4).

Praxis and reflection feature as a key element in many teacher education programmes in our universities and could perhaps symbolise some aspects of our emerging sense of professionalism?

Let me propose that we consider professionalism as a continuum with new, emerging and contemporary forms arising out of our interactions with significant others in the current occupational context.

When we consider the ‘fractured educational landscape’ (5) in which we as university teachers are placed – the high levels of stress and burnout, a culture of managerialism, and the massification of HE – we might expect a new form of professionalism which foregrounds the sustainability not just of a stable society but also of us, the individual professional teachers.

A form of ‘reflexive’ professionalism might retain the values of authority and compliance and extend these to encompass a value placed on moral action that benefits others and importantly self. Such a form of professionalism would place value on being not just student-centred but on being teacher-centred.

With the impending revision of the UKPSF it is timely to ask ourselves, and to engage in dialogue across the sector – how well do the current professional values of the UKPSF symbolise an expectation to value and look after ourselves as well as others, and how well should they?

Dr Alison Nimmo

(Daughter of Lady Dorothy of Droon, Principal Fellow, and Head of Accelerate CPD Learning and Teaching, Glasgow Caledonian University)

This blog is a personal reflection and does not represent the view of my institution or the Higher Education Academy.



  • Fournier, V., (1999), The appeal to ‘professionalism’ as a disciplinary mechanism, The Sociological Review, 47(2), 280-307
  • Evetts, J., (2011), A new professionalism?  Challenges and opportunities, Current Sociology, 59(4), 406-422
  • McLaughlin, T H., (1999), Beyod the reflective teacher, Educational Philosophy and theory, 1(1), 9-25
  • Grundy, S., (1987), Curriculum: Product or praxis, Lewes: Falmer
  • Nixon, J., Marks, A., Rowland, S. & Walke, M., (2001), towards a new academic professionalism: a manifesto of hope, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 22(2), 227-244