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UP North 2020


What is the true value of a Higher Education experience?

This year’s keynote will be delivered by Dr Fiona Smart, from Edinburgh Napier University.

Fiona Smart is Associate Professor of Learning and Teaching and co-author of a recent report (September 2019) entitled Beyond the metrics,: identifying, evidencing and enhancing the less tangible assets of higher education. 

Keynote Title: What is the true value of a Higher Education experience?

The construct of the measured university is familiar to us, and may or may not be welcome, dependent on individual perspectives. Whatever our own views, the measured university provides a setting in which we have become used to seeking out metrics to establish the picture of what constitutes quality learning experiences for our students with a view to enhancing that experience. Thus, quantitative data have status and value both for institutions and the sector itself. They are seen to be able to speak to the fulfilment of our individual missions and to direct activity intended to enhance practices.

This keynote does not intend to dismiss or demean the importance of metrics, but it will challenge their overarching dominance. Furthermore, it will speak to the risk that in seeking to measure whatever we believe to be important, we are likely miss other things which also matter – to students, to academics, to professional service staff, to HE itself – because they are less easy to count or simply get hold of.

The keynote will overview a QAA (Scotland) funded project [1] which set out to explore how we might better grasp hold of what we call ‘The Intangibles’. It will examine the extent to which the methodology we have created might assist in bringing to light aspects of the higher education experience that really do matter, but which commonly drift out of sight. It will invite members of the audience to contemplate what they might take from our intangibles project into their own context so that, as a collective, we  can establish a richer understanding of the true value of a higher education experience for all stakeholders.

[1] The project team are Dr Alastair Robertson, Abertay University; Professor Liz Cleaver, University of the West of England and Dr Fiona Smart, Edinburgh Napier University.


Dr Smart is the Head of Learning and Teaching Enhancement at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland, UK; she undertakes consultancy work for Advance HE in the UK and internationally. In the Scottish community, Dr Smart is the Convenor of the Scottish Higher Education Developers (SHED) group, a community of practice which brings together the 19 Universities in Scotland to explore and develop the role of the educational developer. Under her stewardship, she has ensured that SHED has thrived through its international connections, building relationships and sharing expertise with Northern Ireland, Canada and China. Dr Smart is active in the Scottish Principal Fellow Network and is the architect of its mission statement. In addition to her enduring commitment to higher education because of its ability to effect change for individuals and communities, she has a particular interest in arts-based pedagogy and has developed an innovative approach which enables group reflection and learning called poetic transcription with a twist.