Annual Review 2014/15

Rewarding student endeavour

The Edinburgh Award, which recognises students' undertakings beyond the curriculum, has been commended by the Quality Assurance Agency.

Final-year undergraduate Chelsea Martin, with Professor Tina Harrison and Ms Shelagh Green, in the University’s Career Service.
Final-year undergraduate Chelsea Martin (left), with Professor Tina Harrison and Ms Shelagh Green, in the University’s Career Service.

The late summer of 2014 saw a small but dedicated group of Edinburgh staff, led by Professor Tina Harrison, Assistant Principal Academic Standards, gather to begin preparations for the institution’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) review.

 Over the course of 14 meetings and two separate visits, the Enhancement-Led Institutional Review panel met with staff and students – undergraduates, postgraduates and distance learners, in person and via Skype – to ensure a clear understanding of how the University’s teaching practices are developing and innovating.

During this process one project particularly impressed the panel.

The Edinburgh Award is an employability and personal development scheme established by the University with Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA).

The commitment of Edinburgh students to take up volunteering never fails to impress and their range of activities is vast: from taking part in charity fundraising telethons, acting as a student ambassador, to football coaching and feeding the homeless.

As well as throwing themselves in to voluntary work, a great many also juggle the demands of study with part-time work. Now, through the Edinburgh Award, these efforts are recognised in a way that helps shape their careers.

Boosting employability 

“Personal, professional and intellectual growth happen within and beyond the formal curriculum,” says Ms Shelagh Green, Director of the University’s Careers Service. “It’s essential that we use all these experiences to prepare our students for the challenging and ever-changing world that awaits them.”

Prompted by the University’s ongoing commitment to student employability, and the development of Higher Education Achievement Reports (HEAR), the Edinburgh Award was created to add structure to co- and extra-curricular activities.

Be it part-time work, volunteering, peer-assisted learning or student representation, University staff – the Award leaders – bring their particular expertise to each version of the Award. This flexibility contributed to the scheme’s growth, which reached target numbers two years ahead of schedule.

Capitalising on a deep engagement with student support across the institution, while students graduate with their Edinburgh Award recorded on their HEAR, the University has also fostered communities actively committed to accelerating student development.

“The Edinburgh Award has a sector-leading design and delivery model, making significant impact across the University,” explains Ms Green. “It has brought career planning and employability into previously unreached areas of the University community, and student satisfaction runs at above 95 per cent.”

For one fourth-year law undergraduate, Ms Chelsea Martin, the experience of undertaking the Award brought unexpected benefits.

“I definitely have more confidence in myself as a result of the Edinburgh Award,” says Chelsea. “In the past, I’d portray the image of confidence, whereas now I no longer have to pretend – I really do have the confidence I need.”

Chelsea worked as a LawPALS leader as part of the Law School’s Peer-Assisted Learning Scheme. She helped first-year law students adapt to studying law, through weekly meetings.

“I was encouraged to do the Award by other students who had completed it previously but I was also motivated by the prestige associated with having the Award on my transcript,” she explains.

Confidence-building

For Chelsea the experience was transformative: “Self-awareness and reflection are big parts of the process. Never before have I looked so closely at myself – either to identify and talk about my strengths or to recognise and work on my weaknesses. Not only do I have more confidence in the skills that I have, but I also gained confidence in being able to state these skills on an application, knowing that I had real examples to back them up and an award to show for it.”

Ancient History MA graduate Mr Declan Sheridan undertook an internship with the University’s Careers Service while completing his degree, and was also a recipient of the Edinburgh Award for his efforts.

The  I saw the Award as a fantastic way to reflect and acknowledge the activities I do outside of the academic setting.

Mr Declan Sherridan

“I decided to do the Edinburgh Award for a number of reasons,” he explains. “I realised that a degree is no longer enough. You have to maximise what you do in your spare time also. I saw the Award as a fantastic way to reflect and acknowledge the activities I do outside of the academic setting; and it was easy to complete alongside my internship.”

Declan believes the process he went through to gain the Award stands him in good stead in an ever-challenging job market. 

“It’s great to have the recognition from the University and to know that my extracurricular efforts are valued,” he says. “But more importantly I now have the skills to really focus on self-reflection to ensure personal development. The benefits of this programme are definitely going to be long lasting.”

What began as a pilot five years ago is now an integral part of the Edinburgh student experience.

“These are essential steps in best preparing our students to have the greatest benefit on society as a whole,” states Ms Green. “As Director of the Careers Service, there’s nothing better than hearing the stories from individual students who relate how beneficial the experience has been when applying for jobs and going for interview.”

The University received the best possible outcome from the QAA’s Enhancement-Led Institutional Review, which commended the Edinburgh Award, alongside other University commitments to best learning practice.

For Professor Harrison, this has been a team affair: “The successful outcome reflects the commitment of University staff and EUSA to ensuring a high-quality student experience. The overall feedback from the review team was extremely positive. The outcome also reflects the contribution colleagues have made to the review. All of this makes the successful outcome a truly collective effort.”