culture change

Engage Fellowships

updated on 24 Jan 2024
3 minutes

In our latest blog, NCCPE Co-director, Sophie Duncan, shares how and why we're launching Engage Fellowships.

Sophie Duncan presenting at an Engage Conference with NCCPE logo in the background

We are delighted to launch the Engage Fellowships – a project that has been long in development, but which we hope will make a positive contribution to the sector.

The NCCPE has had the privilege of working with public engagement professionals for many years. The higher education sector benefits significantly from those in brokerage roles – who enable engagement across a diversity of partnerships and areas of work. However, for those committed to working to support the embedding of engagement across the HE sector – there are some hurdles, not least the challenge of professional development and career progression.

Whilst there are some opportunities – for example every year around 40 public engagement professionals join the NCCPE Engage Academy for a year-long development programme - and we now have over 400 alumni of the programme – many PEPs struggle to identify opportunities to develop their careers and progress professionally. 

Some seek their fortunes elsewhere, moving into other professional services roles; into the charity sector; into freelance roles; and a range of other places. Others seek out opportunities to enhance their professional development e.g. through becoming HEA Fellows, or undertaking Churchill Fellowships. However, these opportunities are few and far between, and don’t directly address the professional development of those committed to public engagement. 

Therefore the NCCPE has created another opportunity for public engagement professionals to enhance their career, whilst contributing significant value to the embedding of engagement into the HE sector. The Engage Fellowship scheme.

Many of you will have heard me reflect on the development of an approach like this. Indeed the shape of the programme owes a lot to conversations where people have made suggestions as to how to strengthen the approach. We thank you for these ideas, and hope the final scheme reflects the great advice that has been given. 

1) Why individuals, partnerships and groups?

Most fellowships are for individuals, and the scheme was originally conceived this way. However a conversation with a wise PEP reminded me that an NCCPE fellowship should reflect our commitment to building inclusive knowledge approaches in higher education. Therefore we have offered people the opportunity to work together – as a partnership or group – and for all those involved to be Engage Fellows. This provides opportunities for people to work together if they wish. It is worth noting, that even if you apply as an individual fellow – you can still involve others in the fellowship. 

2) Why £10 – 25k?

We wanted the fellowship to be enough to enable the fellows to develop professionally and tackle a challenge in the sector. We considered the average cost of ‘buying out’ a senior public engagement professional for 1 day a week for a year; events costs; travel costs; costs for bringing in other expertise; funding to facilitate participation in fellowship activities. We anticipated the ‘fellow/ fellows’ needing around 15k for their costs; and the other 10k to be utilised on facilitating the involvement of others. However applicants may have other ideas – and it is up to you how you cost your application. 

3) Why focused on a challenge?

Many fellowships are aimed at professional development, and we did consider this when developing the scheme. However we wanted the fellowship to also impact the higher education sector – and for the skills and insights of public engagement professionals to be recognised. We think the challenge provides a useful focus for the fellows; encourages people to work at a national (or international) level with the backing of the NCCPE; and ensures that there is an opportunity to put existing skills into practice whilst developing new ones. Professional development opportunities are always stronger when you have a way of putting what you are learning into practice. 

These initial fellowships will set the foundations for what comes next. Our hope is that the scheme works well for our initial fellows, that we learn what can work well, whether there are adjustments needed, before launching the next round of fellowships.