2014 Winners

The winners of the tenth annual THE Awards, held in association with Santander Universities, were announced on 27 November 2014 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London.

Below are the winners in each category. Click the name of the winner to view more information. 

Excellence and Innovation in the Arts
Norwich University of the Arts
Judges' comments:

Norwich University of the Arts has developed a pioneering approach to promoting arts, design and media to the business community, resulting in an employability strategy closely tailored to the sorts of creative careers that its students want.

The vehicle to achieve this is known as ideasfactory@NUA, a bespoke commercial agency within the university that undertakes commissions across all disciplines for genuine clients. In the academic year 201213, these included: a design strategy for the Norfolk Museums Service; animations used at the Latitude Festival; brand identity development for digital imaging company FXHOME; and a sculpture for housing developers Persimmon.

For each project, a team of students is set up under the agency’s business director, drawing on creative input from academic experts. Commercial partners are thus assured of professional on-cost, on-budget results, with the student teams overseen by highly experienced mentors.

The success of ideasfactory@NUA has helped to attract a £1.5 million grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and £200,000 from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. The money will be used to construct an incubation centre and hub that will further the agency’s work, stimulate the regional economy and contribute an estimated 200 high-value jobs by 2020.

Even more significant is the impact of ideasfactory@NUA on students, many of whom have launched prestigious design careers on the back of the agency’s projects, boosting the university’s employability rate to 92 per cent.

“Norwich University of the Arts has developed an innovative and professional programme for engaging with the business community,” said Shearer West, head of the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford and one of our judges, “with positive outcomes for all those involved.”

Outstanding ICT Initiative of the Year
The Open University
Judges' comments:

Launched in July 2013, The Open University’s OpenScience Laboratory is an internet-based platform for teaching practical processes to online students.

It began in response to the challenges of combining the practical elements of science, technology, engineering and maths study with distance learning.

It has been so successful that it is being integrated across The Open University’s science curriculum and has become a core element of the institution’s STEM degrees, allowing the university to explore and analyse fresh approaches to science learning.

To provide distance-learning students with access to relevant online experience, the university worked with the Wolfson Foundation, a charity that awards grants to support and promote academic excellence, in order to engage leading software developers and researchers in the platform’s design. Most of the 50 online investigations developed as a result are used in undergraduate modules, and many are freely available to the public.

Martin Hamilton, futurist at Jisc and one of our judges, said that the OpenScience Laboratory gives STEM distance learners “the closest possible experience to studying in a real lab”.

He added: “It strategically supports distance learning at a variety of educational levels, providing resources through open access to a wide range of potential audiences.”

The judging panel felt that it was a “genuinely exciting” project, Mr Hamilton said.

“It clearly demonstrates the power that technology has to enable people in higher education to perform at the forefront of international practice,” he concluded.

Research Project of the Year
University of Nottingham
Judges' comments:

A discovery that will rewrite the ophthalmology textbooks has been named Research Project of the Year.

Scientists from the University of Nottingham have identified a previously undetected layer of the cornea, the clear protective lens that sits in front of the eye.

The group, led by Harminder Dua, professor of ophthalmology at Nottingham, found a distinct layer deep in the corneal tissue that plays a vital role in the flow of fluid from the eye. The discovery has been named “Dua’s layer” in honour of the Nottingham scientist.

The structure has sparked a flurry of research questions about its role in diseases of the eye including glaucoma, the world’s second most common cause of blindness, which is a result of defective fluid drainage. Dua’s layer may also shed fresh light on currently poorly understood aspects of eye surgery.

The research, published in the journal Ophthalmology in June 2013, was the discipline’s most downloaded paper on the ScienceDirect website over the next three months.

Collaborative work with researchers in Italy, Egypt, Lithuania and Wales is building on the breakthrough.

The judges described the discovery as truly groundbreaking.

Shearer West, head of the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford, said: “The discovery of a new layer of the cornea by Professor Dua has been one of the most exciting recent developments in ophthalmology, with the possibility of revolutionising the treatment of corneal diseases.”

Outstanding Contribution to Leadership Development
WINNER - University of York
Judges' comments:

A programme bringing together departmental management teams from across the University of York to deliver better leadership has been recognised by our judges for the clarity of its design and purpose.

Dozens of delegates from six departments across two cohorts have already benefited from York’s Collaborative Leadership Programme.

A specific diagnostic model based on world-class provision was used to assess each department, followed by a detailed report to act as the framework for improvement.

Workshops, action plans and one-to-one coaching were then employed to assist managers in identifying problems and ways to implement change.

One of the most important aspects of the scheme was its collaborative nature, with teams from different departments working together, offering advice and acting as “critical friends”.

York said the programme had led to more open, focused, supportive and constructive discussion among management teams.

Meanwhile, the scheme’s “critical friend” aspect showed each team that it was not alone but part of a wider community working to meet shared challenges.

Alison Johns, chief executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and one of our judges, praised the programme’s innovative approach, adding that the use of the “departmental excellence” tool to make initial assessments provided a “clear action plan for improvement”.

“The design on role clarification and purpose was excellent,” she added.

HIGHLY COMMENDED - University of Stirling
Judges' comments:

This was another tough decision for the judges and they decided they’d also like to highly commend the University of Stirling for the impressive early results of its Gender Equality Initiative.

The University of Stirling’s Gender Equality Initiative seeks to change the environment and culture supporting women’s leadership progression, a sector-wide problem.

Outstanding Employer Engagement Initiative
Plymouth University
Judges' comments:

An initiative that provides undergraduate and postgraduate study for those working on oil rigs has taken the plaudits in this category.

Plymouth University’s Hydrographic Academy offers employees of global geosciences company Fugro the opportunity to overcome massive logistical and geographical barriers to learning.

About 430 students from 38 countries have enrolled on the bachelor’s and master’s level programmes since they began in June 2012.

The courses, which are designed to meet full Quality Assurance Agency standards and the accreditation criteria set by industry bodies, have proved so popular there is now a waiting list.

The Hydrographic Academy offers modular courses in hydrography, oceanography and meteorology that can be taken and paid for individually so that learners can fit study around their work and income.

The learning resources and assessments are loaded on to memory sticks because of the predominantly offline nature of offshore work, but further materials, videoconferencing and Skype tutorials are available when students are online.

The judges described the project as a “powerful example” of employer engagement and were impressed by the fact that it offers a new entry point to higher education.

Sir Deian Hopkin, president of the National Library of Wales and one of our judges, said: “The Hydrographic Academy builds on the university’s long engagement with the marine industry.

“The flexible modular programmes are provided both offline and online, using the full range of new learning technologies, supported by intensive teaching and fieldwork when students are on shore leave.”

Widening Participation or Outreach Initiative of the Year
WINNER - University of Sheffield
Judges' comments:

Advanced Apprentices is an earn-as-you-learn scheme that gives work-based trainees the chance to study at a research-intensive university.

The project is based at the University of Sheffield’s purpose-built Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. In its first year, some 150 apprentices working in manufacturing benefited from its high-quality practical and academic training.

Those taking the higher apprenticeship foundation degree, delivered with Barnsley College, are also eligible to progress to a part-time top-up degree programme run by Sheffield, or to transfer to the second year of an honours-level engineering degree.

As a direct alternative to student loan-funded study, an apprentice who progresses to the undergraduate level can leave Sheffield with a degree, seven years’ industrial experience and no debt.

“I hope my apprenticeship will act as a platform for me to reach my goal of achieving a master’s degree in engineering physics and becoming one of the best engineers in the country,” said one beneficiary of the project.

John Widdowson, principal and chief executive of New College Durham and lead judge in this category, said the apprenticeship scheme was a “real alternative to more traditional full-time study” that would engage those who might not otherwise consider higher education.

“Sheffield has designed a programme that not only responds to the needs of students and their employers, but also integrates this alternative mode of study with progression to higher academic awards,” he added.

HIGHLY COMMENDED - Kingston University
Judges' comments:

The judges decided that Kingston University should be highly commended for its impressive work with care leavers.

The widening participation team at Kingston University created a new package of support for care leavers, involving student ambassadors and the development of a learning community. 

Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community
University of Manchester
Judges' comments:

One of the University of Manchester’s core strategic goals is social responsibility: it “seeks to make a positive contribution to the social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing of our local, national and global communities”.

The University of Manchester School Governor Initiative (UMSGI) is a central part of this strategy.

Many state schools in the most challenging circumstances are unable to recruit governors with the right skills. Utilising its 11,000-plus workforce and substantial alumni community, in 2012-13 Manchester was able to encourage 241 people to take on such positions, bringing to the posts skills ranging from finance and law to marketing and human resources.

The number of university staff becoming governors increased from 52 to 116.

Sir Deian Hopkin, president of the National Library of Wales and one of our judges, said that Manchester’s project was a “key partner” in a national scheme organised by charity SGOSS – Governors for Schools, which aims to match skilled workplace staff with vacant governor positions.

“Since 2012-13, the university has helped to fill one in five school governor vacancies in the North West and has doubled the number of its staff involved,” he said.

“By including alumni, Manchester now ranks highest of all UK employers involved in the SGOSS – Governors for Schools scheme, with around 250 governors volunteering almost 3,000 days and impacting on 85,000 learners.”

Sir Deian added that Manchester’s intervention has had a “measurable effect on local school performance and reinforced the university’s strategic ambition to make a positive contribution to its community”.

The Lord Dearing Lifetime Achievement Award
Professor Mike Shattock
Judges' comments:

Universities are hugely complex organisations that face an unusually wide range of challenges. The strength of UK university management is evident in our institutions’ exceptional performance, particularly when measured against that of international rivals and the level of investment they receive.

Someone who embodies this is Mike Shattock, who has played a central role in the development of the modern university – first as a pioneering registrar at the University of Warwick, where in the 1980s and 1990s he was at the heart of work shaping the distinctive entrepreneurial approach of the institution, and later as an academic and expert on the organisation and administration of higher education.

His hands-on involvement in resolving crises has included the recovery of what is now Cardiff University from the threat of bankruptcy in 1987, and a review at the University of Cambridge in 2001, which led to far-reaching changes in its administration and governance.

Mike’s wider influence is to be found across a large number of universities in the generation of senior higher education administrators whom he helped to develop – a formidable diaspora who owe much of their professional foundations to him.

Since 1999, he has been a professor in the Centre for Higher Education Studies at the Institute of Education, where he founded the world’s only MBA in higher education management, while his own publication record and his work internationally – particularly on higher education reform in Eastern Europe – speak volumes about the drive and innovation that have been the hallmarks of his career.

Described by one member of the Times Higher Education editorial board as someone whose “legacy will survive down the generations”, he is a deserving winner of the Lord Dearing Lifetime Achievement Award.

Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology
WINNER - University of Salford
Judges' comments:

The University of Salford has taken the honours in this category for its development of an eco-friendly aerosol valve system that has the potential to significantly reduce global greenhouse emissions.

The system, developed by a team led by Ghasem Nasr, director of Salford’s Spray Research Group, obviates the need for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in aerosol sprays – a major breakthrough in the battle to enhance aerosol safety and reduce the production of harmful gases.

The valves use inert compressed gas as propellant, rather than the liquefied petroleum gas currently used in many aerosols.

The team has worked with the Salford Valve Company, a private venture that focuses on commercialising the university’s intellectual property, to introduce the technology to the multimillion-pound global aerosol spray market. It has already secured five patents.

Chris Cobb, chief operating officer and secretary at the University of London and one of our judges, said: “In an excellent field, we eventually decided to make the award to Professor Nasr’s team.

“It is estimated that around 17 billion aerosol units are produced each year, and the VOCs used contribute significantly to global warming. As well as reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, the valve will also reduce production costs and enhance safety in aerosol production.”

The technology has the potential to be used in most aerosol applications, including consumer goods, cosmetics and healthcare. Its green credentials, safety applications and industrial promise make it a worthy winner.

HIGHLY COMMENDED - University of Glasgow
Judges' comments:

The judges decided that the University of Glasgow should be highly commended for its acoustic hologram ‘toolbox’.

An acoustic hologram ‘toolbox’ created at the University of Glasgow has led to a series of breakthroughs in areas such as diagnostics and drug delivery.

Outstanding Support for Early Career Researchers
University of Sheffield
Judges' comments:

A programme that encourages PhD candidates to think about life after study – and helped 2,500 junior scholars in the 2012-13 academic year – has taken the plaudits in this highly competitive category.

In the first 10 months of the University of Sheffield’s Think Ahead scheme, 200 group events were held. These included workshops, seminars, conferences and courses, as well as one-to-one meetings.

The events helped doctoral students and early career researchers to think about their individual career ambitions inside and outside the academy.

Activities included mentoring partnerships, grant-writing support groups and mock interview panels as part of a programme designed with interdisciplinarity in mind (thus reflecting the current research environment).

Experts from within the university as well as alumni, employers, external pundits and other institutions contributed to the programme.

The events were designed to bring together early career researchers from different parts of the university and to encourage the attendance of those who might never have ventured outside their departments.

The judges singled out for particular praise the 750 one-to-one career mentoring and coaching sessions organised as part of the programme.

Janet Metcalfe, head of Vitae and one of our judges, said: “We were impressed by the depth and breadth of professional development provision for early career researchers, supporting research careers and fostering interdisciplinarity through the Think Ahead programme.”

Outstanding Support for Students
Nottingham Trent University
Judges' comments:

Nottingham Trent University’s Tutor Dashboard uses data analytics to track various forms of student interaction with staff and to create an easily digestible digital view of student engagement.

The dashboard alerts tutors when engagement falls below certain predefined levels and prompts them to intervene sooner rather than later. It also provides broader insights into attainment: it can be used to spot students on the cusp of better grades in sufficient time for tutors to put in place action plans to help to achieve them.

Now in its second year of use, the dashboard has proved to be an intuitive and practical way for staff to manage their many one-to-one connections with students, and has earned strong testimonials from tutors and tutees.

“This is really beneficial for students on my course, particularly when it comes to personal issues and getting help,” said one second-year undergraduate.

Toni Pearce, president of the National Union of Students and one of our judges, said that Nottingham Trent had shown “outstanding commitment” to supporting its students by using “sophisticated data analytics to ensure that they get the best possible experience with their personal tutor while at university”.

She added: “We know that excellent academic and pastoral support can transform students’ experiences, and Nottingham Trent’s intelligent approach means that students don’t slip through the gaps, helping them to stay on course.”

Most Innovative Teacher of the Year
Dr James Pickering, University of Leeds
Judges' comments:

James Pickering’s bold and imaginative use of technology hugely impressed our judges.

Dr Pickering, lecturer in anatomy at the University of Leeds, made all his teaching slides available online, with his students viewing them 31 times each on average.

Their distribution helped to increase the average mark in the modules in question from 76 per cent to 81.5 per cent: 92 per cent of Dr Pickering’s students said that their knowledge of anatomy had improved as a direct result of access to the slides.

The screencasts were also uploaded to several open access sources, with Dr Pickering’s YouTube channel receiving more than 86,000 hits in 2012-13.

“James truly goes ‘above and beyond’ when it comes to extra resources and providing alternative methods of learning,” said a student representative at Leeds.

Dr Pickering’s lectures were also made available as podcasts. In addition, he was lead educator for a massive open online course, Exploring Anatomy: The Human Abdomen, which reached 8,500 learners across the world. Some 97 per cent of them rated the course as good or excellent, and 17 per cent finished it – a high completion rate for a Mooc.

Philippa Levy, deputy chief executive (academic practice) at the Higher Education Academy, said that Dr Pickering’s approach was “an outstanding example of the transformative use of new technologies in higher education and teaching”.

She added: “His imaginative and innovative use of technology, blending screencasts and podcasts with the more traditional classroom, has inspired anatomy students and enhanced their understanding and success as learners.”

International Collaboration of the Year
WINNER - University of Greenwich
Judges' comments:

The humble cassava is at the root of our International Collaboration of the Year, a University of Greenwich-led initiative that has transformed the lives of 90,000 subsistence farmers in five African countries.

The starchy root vegetable is a staple of the sub-Saharan diet, but many growers barely get enough cash from their produce to feed their families: the roots are highly perishable, and traditionally produced cassava flour is of poor quality.

To tackle these problems, the Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA) project developed technology to turn the vegetable into an affordable product hardy enough to replace imported wheat and corn, supported by further interventions along the supply chain to boost its value.

To deliver the project, Greenwich’s Natural Resources Institute partnered five universities (one each from Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi), backed by $16.7 million (£10.5 million) awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

C:AVA has now helped 90,000 farmers to increase their annual income by between $310 and $370, enabling many to diversify their crops and send their children to school.

Some 24,000 tonnes of high-quality flour have been processed, supporting 89 village processing groups and 51 small enterprises.

In 2012-13, leadership of C:AVA was passed to Nigeria’s Federal University of Agriculture. A follow-up project, C:AVA2, has been launched, funded by $18.8 million from the Gates Foundation.

Joanna Newman, vice-principal (international) of King’s College London and one of our judges, said Greenwich had given a “very clear lead” to a “complex web” of international partners. “This project was very impressive for its scale, transforming the livelihoods of 90,000 subsistence farmers,” she said. “It was a truly international collaboration.”

HIGHLY COMMENDED - St George's, University of London
Judges' comments:

The judges also wanted to highly commend St George's, University of London for their ePBLnet project, modernising the medical curriculum across Eastern Europe, central Asia and the Caucasus.

Business School of the Year
Salford Business School, University of Salford
Judges' comments:

Impressive collaboration with small and mediumsized enterprises has secured the Business School of the Year accolade for the University of Salford.

Judges praised the way Salford Business School had prioritised its “real-world” impact in the business community, with 79 per cent of staff regularly engaging with small and medium-sized firms during 2012-13. These interactions were facilitated by an “engagement hub” that helped staff and students to work with companies on projects, internships and placements. As a result, Salford’s interactions with SMEs increased by 45 per cent year on year to 3,874.

Small charities and social enterprises also benefited, with 267 third sector bodies working with the business school in 2012-13. Salford has set up the Centre for Social Business to promote research in this area.

Some 41 per cent of the business school’s course leavers in 2013 went to work with SMEs, up 12 per cent on the previous year. This helped to improve the university’s graduate employment record.

Entrepreneurship is another crucial area, with Salford assessing enterprise activity as part of its postgraduate programmes. The school now has 58 student micro start-ups working from its studios.

Paul Marshall,a member of the judging panel and group business development director at UPP, described Salford as a “very worthy winner”.

“In a year of notable successes for the school, the judges were particularly impressed by the ways in which it successfully maximised the real-world impact achieved by staff and students, particularly in relation to the difficult-to-reach small business community,” he said.

Outstanding International Student Strategy
University of Sheffield
Judges' comments:

Not content with developing its own successful international strategy, the University of Sheffield took the lead nationally with an initiative designed to show overseas students that the UK still wants them.

To counter the negative impressions created by the often heated and contentious debate over student visas and immigration, the institution launched #weareinternational, a campaign clarifying the procedures for Indian and Chinese students applying to the UK academy.

#weareinternational benefited from unprecedented access to the mechanics of the visa process, allowing producers to film biometric testing and interviews by immigration officers.

The footage, recorded in English and Chinese, was unbranded and designed for use across the British higher education sector. It was created with the backing of Universities UK and has now been used by the government, the British Council and more than 100 UK institutions.

On top of this, Sheffield launched #standbyme, a campaign encouraging students, staff and alumni to post a selfie of themselves with an international friend on social networking sites.

The campaign spread beyond the institution and was taken up by politicians and government ministers.

The university also commissioned an independent report into the economic contribution made by international students to the city of Sheffield.

Joanna Newman, one of the judges and vice-principal (international) at King’s College London, said that Sheffield’s campaign had challenged government policy while delivering a positive message. “This managed to go beyond a local campaign to become something that captured the national imagination about why international students matter.”

Entrepreneurial University of the Year
Anglia Ruskin University
Judges' comments:

Anglia Ruskin University has sought to promote the concept of entrepreneurship among students, staff and alumni – and this has led to significant growth in student numbers and income.

There are many signs of this entrepreneurial focus throughout the institution.

For example, its MedTech Campus is one of the world’s largest health innovation spaces (the Clinical Trials Unit works with commercial sponsors to bring business and academic rigour to health research, thereby cutting the time it takes to bring innovations to market).

The Degrees at Work project has boosted the availability of higher education in the workplace. And Ixion, a not-for profit group and university subsidiary, provides enterprise support to 5,000 start-ups (almost three-quarters of them still trading after six months).

In terms of personnel, Anglia Ruskin’s entrepreneurial mindset is reflected in the fact that five of its senior staff attended the sector’s Entrepreneurial University Leaders Programme. Its appointment of entrepreneurs-in-residence and student enterprise champions offers further evidence.

Its growing reputation in this field is reflected both in extensive media coverage and in the number of international companies relocating to work with MedTech.

Keith Burnley, chief executive officer at the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education and one of our judges, praised Anglia Ruskin for its “strategic approach to entrepreneurship in the fields of health and social care, and its commitment to local and regional partners”.

Its courses, he added, “prepare entrepreneurial graduates as well as graduate entrepreneurs. The Degrees at Work team has delivered highly valued customer– and demand-led work-based learning.”

University of the Year
Edge Hill University
Judges' comments:

Edge Hill University has steadily built its reputation with strong performances and year-on-year improvement since it gained university status in 2006. But in 2012-13, the first year of higher tuition fees, it proved what an exceptional performer it had become.

Edge Hill was one of only four universities in England to benefit from an increase in applications as the £9,000 fee regime took hold. Over the past 12 years the number of students vying for places at the institution has increased fivefold, while its entry point scores have risen by more than a quarter in the past five years.

John Cater, Edge Hill’s vice-chancellor, has been known to joke that it is an institution with an unusual name in a place that no one has heard of. The residents of Ormskirk may not thank him for that, but Edge Hill has put the West Lancashire town well and truly on the map.

John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education, said: “Edge Hill is a great success story, having quietly established itself as an institution that improves and impresses year after year.

“Its achievements in student satisfaction, staff engagement and graduate employment were noted by our judges, as was its financial performance and the part it plays in transforming lives in the local region.

“In 2012-13, its investment in academic staff, the strengthening of its research profile, the growth in applications and its innovation (it ran the UK’s first undergraduate Mooc to offer academic credit) were all notable achievements.

“It is a deserving winner of the University of the Year title.”

Most Improved Student Experience
Cardiff Metropolitan University
Judges' comments:

Unlike our other categories, this award is not decided by our esteemed judges but rather by the results of a survey, carried out by market research company YouthSight, of about 15,000 students from institutions across the country. Universities where more than 50 students were interviewed were ranked, with 90 of the 114 institutions included returning at least 100 respondents.

The winner is the institution that “advanced most in terms of both the ranked increase in its absolute score and in terms of its ranked position”, said James MacGregor, YouthSight’s director for higher education.

This year, that honour goes to Cardiff Metropolitan University, which scored particularly highly on good relationships with teaching staff, helpful and interested general staff, and a good community atmosphere. This has helped it to climb 28 places in the rankings and to improve its overall score by four points.

“In our experience, these things don’t happen by accident: a strong effort is required to improve the connection and engagement between staff and students. And according to our analysis, improvement in these areas can pay big dividends,” Mr MacGregor said.

“In addition, Cardiff Met students gave high ratings for facilities in general and the library specifically.”

Ben Marks, managing director of YouthSight, said this year’s survey had been the most comprehensive the firm had carried out on the subject.

“This year we surveyed more than 15,000 students, an increase of 1,000 over the previous year, making this the biggest Student Experience Survey for Times Higher Education,” he said. most improved student experience Award sponsored