Ashley Cotton

Step Up Programme Manager

Academic Quality and Development

At Staffordshire, my primary role is Programme Manager and Teaching Excellence Fellow for the Step Up to Higher Education Foundation Certificate programme of study. As an educator, I am passionate and enthused about the transformative role education plays in positively developing people to succeed and flourish in their professional and personal contexts. To support this, through the role as Course Lead, my area of expertise at the University is to work positively with a range of harder-to-reach learners via the delivery of teaching and learning interventions which work to enable students to develop the core academic and required learning skill-set to be successful within a university-level environment. Moreover, providing experiences that enable students to take active ownership for their learning, alongside supporting students to adopt essential practices and techniques which helps them learn more impactfully.

Through my work, my personal, educational ethos and approach is underpinned in more humanist approaches to teaching and learning, enabling students I work with to develop sound levels of confidence and self-efficacy in their own abilities, both in an academic and personal sense. My research interest and approach aim to take a holistic view of students, allowing and supporting discernible personal expansions of positive growth with students, in order to break down any dispositional barriers they experience when engaging with education. I am highly enthused at both facilitating and enabling learners to tap into their potential and find this area of work particularly rewarding. I am also passionate about driving positive social change and the role the University plays in enabling widening participation. I actively research and advocate on this agenda nationally.

Academic qualifications

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Teaching Excellence Fellowship
  • MA Public Policy, University of Manchester
  • LLB Law, Staffordshire University
  • EdD Doctorate in Education (ongoing): “Humanistic education: a method of practice to address dispositional barriers to learning while prompting positive psychological change in adult learners within Higher Education”. 


Outreach focused and led teaching and learning. Developing educational partnerships with external stakeholders to deliver applicable learning programmes of study. Collaborative sector policy research projects with national think-tanks.

Research interests

My educational research interests comprise a focus on understanding the evaluating the optimum andragogic teaching and learning practice in best supporting adult learners within Higher Education. Equally, educational psychology and effective methods of coaching and mentoring is a particular interest to my work and practice.


Reflective practice, emotional intelligence, ethics and values, critical evaluation and study skills.

I also lead and manage academic provision and two modules of study within the School of Digital, Arts and Technologies.


Cotton, A. (2021) ‘Levelling Up: humanistically-infused education at Staffordshire University. Fit for Purpose: Social Mobility Pledge. 4 November. Available at:

Cotton, A. (2018) ‘Forgotten learners: Stepping up to Higher Education at Staffordshire’. MillionPlus: The Association for Modern Universities. 21 March. Available at:

Williams, S. and Cotton, A. (2018) ‘Step Up to Higher Education’ Forum for Access and Continuing Education. 9 April. Available at:

in the UK for Quality Education

Sustainable Development Goal 4, Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2023

for Career Prospects

Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023

for Facilities

Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023

for Social Inclusion

The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023

of Research Impact is ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Very Considerable’

Research Excellence Framework 2021

of Research is “Internationally Excellent” or “World Leading”

Research Excellence Framework 2021

Four Star Rating

QS Star Ratings 2021