THE Awards 2015 :: Winners
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2015 Winners

The winners of the 2015 THE Awards, were announced on Thursday 26 November 2015 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London.

We have uploaded all the photos from the evening to our THE Awards 2015 Flickr album - high resolution photos that you can download.

You can also download the 2015 winner's book, showing the full details of the winning projects.

Excellence and Innovation in the Arts
Royal Northern College of Music
Judges' comments:

After earlier collaborations with the British Museum and Manchester’s Victoria Baths and Whitworth Art Gallery, the Royal Northern College of Music produced its most complex and interactive project to date.

Held over three evenings at the Imperial War Museum North in July 2014, After the Silence: Music in the Shadow of War was designed to mark the centenary of the First World War. A total of 300 musicians performed 85 different works from the past 100 years, including 25 world premieres.

Instead of traditional sit-down concerts, the RNCM conjured up a curated soundscape, with images of live dance and devastated landscapes projected on to the museum’s walls, so that visitors could make a personal journey through a “musical art gallery”.

Along with poignant pieces by Mahler, Messiaen, Elgar, Penderecki and Steve Reich, composition students produced works inspired by trigger words associated with war, using solo instruments to express the loneliness soldiers often felt amid the noise and crowds of battle. Meanwhile, morale-boosting jazz and ragtime were performed in the museum café to evoke the tea dances and village halls where the horrors were briefly left behind.

“Using Daniel Libeskind’s iconic building as both space and inspiration,” said the judges, the RNCM commemorated the First World War “with imagination and verve” through “a creative blending of music, poetry, photography and choreography”.



Most Improved Student Experience
Southampton Solent University
Judges' comments:

Rather than being decided by a panel of judges, this award is based on the results of a survey, carried out annually by market research company YouthSight, of more than 15,000 students from higher education institutions across the country.

Students are asked to rate the academic reputation, teaching, social life and facilities of their institutions through a series of separate attributes, including the quality of staff, the university’s industry connections, the community atmosphere on campus and general everyday amenities. Each attribute is weighted to reflect its importance in the overall student experience and then informs the results of the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey, which is published each spring.

This particular award is given to the institution that has improved the most in the latest survey, due out in 2016. According to YouthSight, Southampton Solent University improved in almost every category, with some of the biggest increases in poll ratings for the institution’s students’ union and the quality of campus facilities.

James MacGregor, director of higher education at YouthSight, said: “Having achieved university status a decade ago, Solent’s success shows the whole sector what can be achieved in a short time.” He added that as well as the specific gains in ratings for the students’ union and quality of facilities, “students also rated interactions with staff particularly highly compared with last year, with even stronger showings on having ‘helpful/interested staff’ and ‘high-quality staff/lecturers’ than in 2014”.



Outstanding Digital Innovation in Teaching or Research
Bournemouth University
Judges' comments:

Developing software that allows severely disabled schoolchildren to create 3D sculptures earned a team from Bournemouth University the Outstanding Digital Innovation in Teaching or Research award.

The team from Bournemouth’s National Centre for Computer Animation worked with Victoria Education Centre, a school for children with physical and learning disabilities, to develop a software system that enables students to bring art to life.

Children with little or no limb control can find it difficult to engage with art using conventional methods, and can therefore be excluded from an activity that supports self-expression, builds self-confidence and develops skills such as spatial awareness. The Sculpture for Healthcare: Interaction and Virtual Art in 3D project, or Shiva – which was supported by European Union funding and includes partners from France and Norway – developed software that allows children to create and 3D-print objects using only their eyes.

With no existing virtual-sculpting software available, the team developed solutions and had to accommodate the different needs and abilities of users. Speech therapists have since used the software to assist with speaking and listening, and with cognitive development exercises. It has also been employed to improve students’ manual dexterity using the touchscreen to increase range of movement.

The judges said the “outstanding success of the Bournemouth team’s work would leave a lasting impact” and, for some children, it would be the first time they were “able to interact with the world in 3D”.



Research Project of the Year
University of East Anglia
Judges' comments:

Hundreds of thousands of deaths occur globally every year because new bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. The World Health Organisation has warned that this resistance to traditional drugs is spreading across the world and now even common infections that used to be easily treatable can kill.

But scientists from the University of East Anglia, collaborating with colleagues at other universities in the UK and China, last year published a breakthrough in understanding the “Achilles heel” of these new superbugs. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the researchers looked at how bacteria create defensive membranes by transporting the building blocks of this wall to their surface. Crucially, if this path is blocked, the bacteria become vulnerable and die.

“The exciting thing about this is that new drugs will specifically target the protective barrier around the bacteria, rather than the bacteria [themselves],” said Haohao Dong, the paper’s lead author. “Because new drugs won’t need to enter the bacteria, we hope that the bacteria will not be able to develop drug resistance in future.”

Earlier this year the Wellcome Trust awarded a further £1.7 million to group leader Changjiang Dong to continue the work. The findings, published in the journal Nature, generated huge press coverage both in the UK and internationally.

The judges said it had “the potential to make an enormous contribution in the field of antibiotic resistance and will make a huge difference to global health”.



Outstanding Contribution to Leadership Development
University of Huddersfield
Judges' comments:

The Huddersfield Academy of Leadership and Management was introduced with the aim of securing “truly transformational leadership at all levels in the university”. Leaders and managers were enrolled in the academy – piloted in 2013-14 – to help them develop the confidence and skill set to become truly effective leaders.

Under the scheme, participants received coaching and mentoring, psychometric assessment and feedback from their colleagues and managers, as well as keeping a reflective learning log. They were also given support to achieve formal qualifications and took part in workshops and master-classes on leadership.

“It was both brilliant to receive positive feedback and thought-provoking where there were areas of criticism,” said one academy member. “It made me stop and think about my interactions with colleagues instead of just dashing along as I had always done.”

The scheme’s cohort doubled in size in its second year, with 85 per cent of first-year members saying that they had applied methods and skills learned in the academy to their day-to-day activities. Staff were also encouraged to share what they had learned via self-reflection exercises, which has helped others to develop their leadership skills.

Judges praised Huddersfield’s approach to leadership development for operating at individual, departmental and university-wide levels. “The energy and effort put into engaging line managers in individual development further ensured whole organisation change,” they said.



Outstanding Employer Engagement Initiative
University of Portsmouth
Judges' comments:

The winners of this year’s award impressed judges with an initiative that has clear benefits for both parties. Through the University of Portsmouth’s Forensic Innovation Centre, the institution has joined forces with Hampshire Police to create the first operational police forensic research facility in the country to be based on a university campus. It combines forensic science and digital crime-fighting investigators with a state-of-the-art learning facility for researchers, students and serving police staff to work side by side to solve crimes.

The partnership allows Portsmouth’s researchers to be at the forefront of any practical or professional changes and developments in the sector. For Hampshire Police, it offers an increased capacity to research, develop and test new forensic science methods, technology and techniques.

Police staff support students through honorary lectureship positions and police-student mentoring programmes, and students are provided with opportunities for internships or year-long sandwich courses. They gain experience of working on cutting-edge forensics while police staff gain access to teaching support and university resources, which can contribute to their professional development. What is more, Hampshire Police now has instant access to a pool of fully vetted and trained potential future employees.

“This is identifiably a new initiative which delivers clears benefits to both sides,” the judges said. “The way the police are embedded in the course delivery” and the way students gain “highly relevant practical experience”, seem to be “the right kind of employer engagement”.



Widening Participation or Outreach Initiative of the Year
Keele University
Judges' comments:

Keele’s hugely successful project to reach out to the next generation of stargazers and science students by taking an inflatable “stardome” into local schools was a deserved winner in this category.

Launched in 2012 by the university’s head of astrophysics, Rob Jeffries, with funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Exoplanetarium initiative has engaged with more than 13,000 schoolchildren, making it the most popular outreach project in Keele’s history.

The dome uses a spherical-mirror projection system to present astrophysics resources, with the aim of explaining Keele’s worldclass research on planets beyond our solar system, linking it to the school science curriculum, and inspiring children to think about science and higher education as a future pathway. Key to the programme is the use of student ambassadors to increase the number of visits that are possible while at the same time giving students vital experience and a role in enthusing the next generation.

The statistics on the sheer number of children and schools associated with the project demonstrate its success, with more than 5,000 children involved in 2013-14 alone. Post-visit evaluations found that 52 per cent of children said they were more likely to study science, technology, engineering or maths at university as a result.

The judges said the project made excellent use of “astronomy as a gateway into physics” and explained “the work of a university to a wider group of people”.



Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community
Royal Holloway, University of London
Judges' comments:

Royal Holloway’s volunteer programme ensured that students and staff were first on the scene of serious floods in Surrey last year, impressing the judges with their “speed of mobilisation and breadth of involvement” to gain the Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community award.

Its Community Action Volunteer programme, with more than 3,000 registered volunteers, is part of the institution’s drive to develop a culture of social responsibility focused on the local community. When floods hit Egham and surrounding areas in Surrey in 2014, the university’s volunteer coordinators put out an appeal for urgent assistance from students and staff. They were among the first on the scene and included registered volunteers, as well as students’ union clubs such as the rugby and American football teams.

Volunteers filled and distributed sandbags, distributed food and clothing parcels to the vulnerable, drove minibuses to help volunteers and army personnel get around and used boats to reach houses cut off by rising water. The university also opened its doors to the local community, making laundry facilities available, collecting money to buy urgently needed items and housing Thorpe Lea Primary School on campus after its classrooms were flooded.

The judges said that although the university itself was largely unaffected by the floods, it “rallied to a local cause”. “The speed of mobilisation and the scale and breadth of involvement from over 3,000 staff and students is an exemplar of how universities can support their local community,” the panel added.



The Lord Dearing Lifetime Achievement Award
Laurie Taylor
Judges' comments:

No one would dare to call Laurie Taylor part of the higher education establishment – he has spent far too long sticking pins in its over-inflated egos, fads and fashions for that. But we might get away with calling him an institution. At the very least he is responsible for creating one of the best known lower-ranking higher education institutions in the land: the University of Poppleton, which has appeared in his Times Higher Education column since 1978. Described as “the funniest satirist of academic life in our time”, Taylor’s Poppletonian column is a weekly dispatch from a small but thrusting university with close ties to a pork pie factory.

It began when he was a professor of sociology at the University of York, where he stayed until 1994, making his name as an ethnographer who studied prison life and the sociology of the criminal underworld. Since his retirement, he has worked as a journalist and broadcaster, bringing academic research to life through his BBC Radio 4 programme, Thinking Allowed, and investigating fame in his Sky Arts series In Confidence. His qualities were summed up by the late sociologist Stanley Cohen, who in 2008 was asked by THE to write a few words about his long-time collaborator. “I am asked to pay a brief tribute to Laurie as a sociologist and as a friend,” he wrote. “This is a bit like being asked for an essay about Muhammad Ali ‘with particular reference to his life as a boxer’. Being a sociologist and a friend are what Laurie does.”

Commenting on the decision to give Taylor the Lord Dearing award, a THE editorial board member said he “has done more for the sanity of university staff than most of the great and good put together”.



Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology
Cardiff University
Judges' comments:

Waiting times in hospitals are rarely out of the headlines, and pose a huge challenge to the NHS and patients themselves. But new mathematical modelling of patient flows by researchers at Cardiff University’s School of Mathematics is helping to shed light on why delays occur on wards and in accident and emergency units, saving lives and money in the process.

In the past, hospital managers have used simple waiting lists and the number of referrals to assess demand. But the Cardiff model factors in the urgency and specific needs of each patient, which allows hospitals to give them better provision. Such mathematical modelling has never been used before in the UK healthcare system.

The Maths Saves Lives model is now being used across hospitals in England and Wales to cut waiting times and inform policymaking. It allows managers to project on screen how changes in their hospital would affect patient flows before putting them into practice.

The researchers say that using the model has already produced major benefits, both in terms of deaths prevented and money saved. At the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, the model has delivered £1.6 million in annual efficiency gains in the emergency department. At St George’s Hospital in South London, the model has helped to cut stroke patient mortality by 60 per cent.

The judges said they were “impressed by the range of innovations achieved in a subject area not renowned for this type of collaboration”.



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

The University of Nottingham’s postgraduate placement programme has helped more than 200 research students to gain valuable career and professional development experience.

Based largely in small and medium-sized enterprises, students were tasked with undertaking projects that brought bottom-line improvements to local businesses. Placements allowed students to apply their analytical and creative thinking skills and use their research expertise in a non-research environment to benefit industry. Placements could be undertaken on a part-time basis, enabling students to integrate industry experience with their studies.

Customer profiling, new product research and development, consultancy and marketing were some of the projects undertaken with more than 100 local employers – demonstrating that researchers are highly skilled professionals who can be competitive in job markets beyond academia.

A survey of 20 businesses that hosted postgraduates on placements shows that research students’ work resulted in an added £205,000 in value to their companies. About eight out of 10 students who participated said placements had significantly improved their ability to acquire, evaluate and interpret information. A similar number said it had increased their self-esteem.

Our judges said Nottingham’s programme was “innovative in its flexibility and focus on local SMEs” and provided “real value to doctoral researchers across all disciplines and to businesses”.



Outstanding Support for Students
Newcastle University
Judges' comments:

Newcastle University’s success in enabling learners with autism spectrum disorder to enjoy the full higher education experience is recognised in the Outstanding Support for Students category.

Responding to concerns that traditional support structures focus on academic issues and not on social and independent living skills, the institution undertook three initiatives that aim to address students’ fear of the unknown. The “transition event” offers early access to accommodation and events, including the freshers’ fair, together with workshops to support the development of independent living skills and knowledge of what to expect at university.

A social mentoring scheme allows a student to select an event or club activity and be supported in that by a mentor, who incrementally reduces the assistance provided as the student’s confidence and social skills increase. An autism and Asperger’s support network gives students access to structured social activities, as well as opportunities to discuss experiences of diagnosis and university life.

The initiatives have received substantial funding from alumni and are already bearing fruit: there has been a 100 per cent retention rate among students who attended the first transition event.

The judges described it as a “fantastic achievement” that showed a “strong understanding of the aim of widening participation” so that all students “can enjoy and access the full university experience”. Mentoring “supports the fact that clubs, societies and extracurricular activity have a huge impact on academic success”.



Most Innovative Teacher of the Year
Momodou Sallah, De Montfort University
Judges' comments:

Taking classroom learning into the real world secured the Most Innovative Teacher of the Year title for Momodou Sallah, senior lecturer in youth, community and education at De Montfort.

Over the year he led three field trips to Gambia, allowing third-year undergraduates to take part in community development work and to observe at first hand some of the globalisation challenges that they had been studying. The students helped to build the Manduar Development Hub, a business incubation and training centre for young Gambians. They also had placements with organisations such as health centres, women’s rights groups and the British Embassy.

The trips were supported by the university’s international experience programme and Global Hands, a non-profit social enterprise, which Dr Sallah founded and chairs. But they were paid for by students’ own fundraising, including a charity race in Leicester, Run for Africa.

The initiative has now been extended beyond Dr Sallah’s own classes to allow other students to take part in community development that is linked to their own studies. For example, media students have gained experience at Gambia’s only non-state radio station.

The judges said Dr Sallah’s teaching was best summed up by one student’s observation: “It changed my life.” “An excellent case of truly innovative curriculum design, engaging students in deconstructing and reconstructing the curriculum, pushing the boundaries, and deepening students’ understanding and appreciation of globalisation,” the panel added.



International Collaboration of the Year
King's College London
Judges' comments:

King’s College London’s winning entry centred on its partnership with Sierra Leone’s College of Medicine and Allied Health Science, the country’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation and its main referral hospital, the Connaught.

The collaboration was set up to help fill the development needs of the Sierra Leonean institutions and find ways to improve healthcare for the Sierra Leonean diaspora living in south-east London. Initial work included training support, a new medical curriculum based on King’s expertise and the Sierra Leonean partners’ knowledge of the country, a triage system for the Connaught’s accident and emergency unit, pilots for free emergency drugs and improved surgical training.

It became especially important when Ebola spread across West Africa in 2014. King’s Sierra Leone Partnership supported the construction of an isolation unit at the Connaught, trained surveillance and healthcare workers, established the Western African Command Centre and set up holding units in six other hospitals, allowing the treatment of 1,400 suspected and 900 confirmed Ebola cases.

KSLP is now working with the UK and Sierra Leonean governments and the World Health Organisation to provide technical advice. Team members Oliver Johnson and Will Pooley received honours from the Queen for their work, and more research is in the pipeline.

Judges said the collaboration “led to a step change in local expertise, capacity building and healthcare delivery in a country at the sharp end of the Ebola epidemic”.



Business School of the Year
Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University
Judges' comments:

A fundamental review of the purpose of a modern business education, which propelled Northumbria University’s Newcastle Business School into an elite group made up of less than 1 per cent of the world’s institutions, is a significant reason why it has triumphed in this category. In May 2014, the school became one of only 10 global institutions outside the US, and the only one in Europe, to be accredited in both business and accounting by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

This was the culmination of an eight-year strategy that involved a major redesign of the school. It included creating undergraduate and postgraduate programme goals, establishing research-rich and industry-relevant course content, working with employers to create a strong curriculum focus on ethics and employability, and an emphasis on personal development and reflective professional practice. As a result, the school saw a 41 per cent increase in internship opportunities and now has the largest suite of programmes in the UK accredited by the Epas scheme, run by international management education body the EFMD. It is also the first business school in the North East to be awarded the Small Business Charter by the Chartered Association of Business Schools.

The judges said the review of the purpose of the business school and the resulting overhaul were “impressive”. The fact that it involved “fairly fundamental changes across all aspects of the school made it even more notable”, they said. Crucially, it “was able to quantify the impact of the changes” in terms of “staff development, student mobility and employability, and accreditations”.



Outstanding International Student Strategy
University of the West of England
Judges' comments:

The University of the West of England came out top in this category after launching an innovative careers website for overseas students.

GradLink UK is a free site that enables students to search and apply directly for jobs, build and submit their CV and research the graduate job market in their chosen country. Businesses can advertise vacancies and search a database of students’ and graduates’ CVs.

UWE collaborated with the careers services at its overseas partner institutions to set up meetings with their employer contacts, which it says has led to real industry engagement. There is now a network of more than 275 employers who use GradLink.

GradLink has since introduced a scholarship scheme for African students to study at UWE and undertake an internship working with the GradLink development team. In early 2016, it will launch a new section focused on helping international students to gain work experience during their studies.

The website has received more than 135,000 visits since its inception in June 2013 and more than 1,000 students from UK universities have put their CVs on its database, which was established in spring 2014. International student applications to UWE have also increased by one-third.

Judges said GradLink “has had impressive numbers of students and employers use the service nationally and internationally, helping the UK retain its reputation for the employability of its graduates”.



Entrepreneurial University of the Year
University of Leeds
Judges' comments:

The University of Leeds has adopted enterprise as one of the four pillars of its strategy and as one of its five students’ union values. Led by the vice-chancellor, the senior team acts as enterprise champion both on campus and within national organisations. The results of this commitment can be seen on all sides.

In 2013-14, the university gained £5.3 million from intellectual property and registered 374 patents. Its spin-out companies attracted £43.2 million in investments and created 426 full-time equivalent jobs. It also helped develop 275 regional businesses through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Growth Programme.

In the same academic year, more than 900 students undertook enterprise electives, half of them outside the business school. The university started a popular MSc in enterprise, set up fully funded “year in enterprise” placements and enrolled 13,000 people from 105 countries on its “Starting a Business” massive open online course. Such achievements have also enabled Leeds to make significant progress towards assembling an investment of more than £40 million for a 10,500 sq m University Innovation and Enterprise Centre.

“Enterprise is at the heart of the institutional vision of the University of Leeds,” noted the judges, “with senior staff, experienced educators and leading researchers driving this agenda across the whole university.” This was reflected in increasing “curriculum opportunities for enterprise education”, owing to “unprecedented levels of alumni and business community support”, as well as “a strong local and regional impact” in both public and private sectors.



University of the Year
Coventry University
Judges' comments:

At a time when universities are often accused of ploughing familiar furrows, Coventry University stands out as an institution that is willing to take calculated risks to help its students succeed. Most notable has been the establishment of Coventry University College as a low-cost option aimed at removing the barriers that prevent many people from accessing higher education.

By making courses affordable, and structuring them in a flexible way that is in keeping with students’ lives, the college has opened new avenues for individuals who might otherwise have been excluded. In 2013-14, 44 per cent of Coventry’s students were from the poorest postcodes, and the institution has now extended the model to a new Scarborough campus. Students, including many who are the first in their family to attend university, are also encouraged to further broaden their horizons and take up opportunities overseas.

Other achievements in 2013-14 included a transformation of its research strategy, investment in the estate and a £125 million deal to regenerate a neglected area of Coventry city centre, as well as extensive work with small and medium-sized enterprises in the city.

John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education, said: “The judges were impressed with Coventry’s achievements across a range of activities and, in particular, by its novel approach to improving access. We’re always looking for pioneers who make bold attempts to tackle the issues facing higher education locally, regionally and nationally, and Coventry is to be congratulated for doing it so successfully.”