2019 winners

The winners of the 2019 THE Awards, were announced on Thursday 28 November 2019 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London. Below are the winners in each category. Click the name of the category to view more information. The winners e-book is available here

Business School of the Year

Claude Littner Business School, University of West London


The Claude Littner Business School’s impressive work to reduce the ethnic minority student attainment gap and to boost its business partnerships has led to its being crowned Business School of the Year.

Via its “Fulfilment through Challenge” programme, the school, part of the University of West London, reduced its ethnic minority attainment gap to a historic low of 0.8 per cent. The programme breaks down barriers to social mobility by raising student confidence and aspirations and creates a seamless transition from education to employment for students whose socio-economic backgrounds make them less likely to gain a footing on competitive career ladders.

The programme introduced personalised and experiential learning into the curriculum, in the form of real-world consultancy projects led by students and knowledge co-creation through student-led research.

It also gave rise to the launch of a not-for-profit consultancy service for the local business community that was led by students and supported by faculty experts. The business school chose to focus on under-represented issues in business and also shone a spotlight on the significant socio-economic contribution made by ethnic minority entrepreneurs in Britain.

The judges said its entry was a “really strong submission with demonstrable impact”.

“Reducing the BAME attainment gap is something most institutions try their best to do, but the success the Claude Littner Business School has had in this respect is truly admirable. The ‘Fulfilment through Challenge’ programme has clearly been effective in driving business engagement, student retention and, as a consequence, social mobility,” the judges said.

Excellence in Registry Services

Loughborough University


By definition, every PhD is unique – and this inherent diversity can pose significant challenges for a university as it seeks to provide a consistent level of support and guidance for all postgraduate research students. That was the challenge tackled by Loughborough University after it found that its light-touch and highly devolved approach to doctoral studies was not fit for purpose.

Working with academic schools and professional services, the university’s academic registry led a project to transform the student experience for doctoral researchers. The revamp introduced rigorous progress reviews, consistent reporting procedures for ill health and personal difficulties and an enhanced range of documentation related to vivas and post-graduation opportunities.

Tracking PhD progression more systematically will also allow the university to ascertain if some groups of students are not progressing as successfully as others.

“We now have an institution-wide PGR structure that is easier to navigate, more consistent and conducive to productive working relationships between PhD students, supervisors, administrators and managers,” said one director of doctoral programmes.

The judges said they were “impressed by the collaborative working of staff from registry services and the ‘change team’”, adding that the “impact on student experience was meaningful and delivered beneficial changes in a robust manner to a sometimes-neglected student group”.

International Collaboration of the Year

Sponsored by

University of Essex


A partnership between Amnesty International, not-for-profit company Airwars and six universities from around the world has won the International Collaboration of the Year category for developing a novel approach to investigating human rights violations in armed conflict.

Trained groups of students at the universities of Essex, Cambridge, Pretoria, Toronto and Hong Kong, plus the University of California, Berkeley, used innovative open source methods to identify videos and photos of the Syrian city of Raqqa online and then to geolocate destroyed buildings using Google Earth. GPS coordinates were published online so that a further group of crowdsourced volunteers could use free satellite imagery to pinpoint when those buildings had been destroyed.

Amnesty investigators on the ground used this information to identify survivors and witnesses and to piece together the true story of the destruction of Raqqa.

The project led to the most comprehensive investigation into civilian deaths in modern conflict. More than 1,600 victims were credibly identified – about 10 times more than the number that the US-led coalition had accepted responsibility for. The findings were presented on an online platform and at an exhibition in London.

The universities said collaborative software and meetings at global summits were key to their working together successfully.

The judges said they were “incredibly impressed with the nature of the partnership, how it led to an impressive network of student investigators, and how it has delivered and continues to deliver data-driven evidence that can be used to prosecute war crimes and support society-building and social justice”.

Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year

Sponsored by

Manchester Metropolitan University


The Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership linked academics from Manchester Metropolitan University with services in the Manchester area that deal with young people in the criminal justice system.

The initiative led to researchers working with about 30 young people to develop a series of principles to help guide youth justice workers on the best ways to support them and include them in decision-making.

More than 260 staff in the area have now benefited from the resulting participatory youth practice training, which has been delivered by academics from the university’s Manchester Centre for Youth Studies.

The project also led to the creation of a tool to apply the framework to cases of young people who need early interventions to steer them away from a path that could land them in court. Those working in youth justice in the area report that this tool has helped them to take better and more timely actions that could prevent young people from becoming long-term reoffenders.

The judges said they were “impressed” by the partnership’s “linking of effective practice, research capabilities and collaborative approaches” that led to the development of the framework for working with young people in the criminal justice system.

“The framework has improved youth justice services across the Greater Manchester region; by giving children and young people more of a voice, it helps to tackle reoffending rates and improve life chances,” they added.

Most Innovative Teacher of the Year

Sponsored by

Tom Delahunt, Canterbury Christ Church University


A lecturer who has used poetry to influence nursing education has won the Most Innovative Teacher of the Year award.

Tom Delahunt, a senior lecturer in the School of Nursing at Canterbury Christ Church University, has created a blog, “The Poetic Nursing Heart”, that allows students and teachers to share poems of significance in an open environment. He encourages students and staff to question their ideas, prejudices, privileges and thinking through poetry and reflection. In feedback, students and colleagues say his approach has deeply affected them both personally and professionally.

The unusual introduction of poetry into healthcare education testifies to Mr Delahunt’s passion for creativity within teaching, and it has led to the adoption of poetry education as a way to boost learning and reflection on a range of nursing modules at the school. Mr Delahunt has also organised poetry symposia where staff and students are invited to share poetry in a supportive environment.

The judges said Mr Delahunt “demonstrated substantial impact through his innovative approach of using poetry within healthcare education. Feedback from students and colleagues alike speak to the transformative effect of his work and the power of educating the person as a whole.”

Outstanding Contribution to Leadership Development

Sponsored by

University of Nottingham


The University of Nottingham won the Outstanding Contribution to Leadership Development award thanks to its achievements in the national Ambitious Futures programme, which brings talented graduates into employment in universities to prepare them for future leadership positions.

Ambitious Futures – run by Nottingham on behalf of the sector – comprises 16 partner institutions, recruiting high-calibre graduates to complete three six-month placements across two different, often contrasting, universities.

Alongside practical work experience, trainees follow a programme of professional development, including an intensive series of workshops, mentor support and taking part in the annual conference of the Association of University Administrators. As trainees grow and gain an understanding of the sector, their personal development is also nurtured.

Key achievements in 2017-18 included securing almost 1,000 applications for 28 places, with 50 per cent holding or expected to gain a first-class degree; encouraging increased diversity, with ethnic minority participants comprising 19 per cent of entrants; and creating a new professional development and group coaching programme.

More than 90 per cent of the 2017-18 cohort continued to work in higher education, on average securing a role at one grade higher than those entering direct, in areas including project management, strategy and planning, digital and marketing, international, research support and research excellence framework coordination.

The judges found that “this innovative approach helps to develop personal resilience, adaptability and emotional intelligence in high-achieving graduates”.

Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community

University of Worcester


Establishing local meeting centres to support people with dementia, fighting off the potentially devastating closure of the centres once research funding ran out, and helping to take the programme nationwide earned the University of Worcester the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community.

The Association for Dementia Studies was created as a research unit at Worcester 10 years ago. In 2014, it began work to set up two local meeting centres for people with dementia, offering them a place to talk to others, to get help that focuses on their needs, and to have fun.

But 2017-18 was a crunch point for the project as research funding ended, bringing the prospect of closure for centres that users had come to see as a lifeline. Resolving to do all they could to keep the centres open, the Association for Dementia Studies team helped them to become charities so they could continue their work.

The team also applied for funding to scale up the programme to national level, securing nearly £600,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund, which created a National Reference Group. There are now eight dementia meeting centres operating across the UK, with a further 20 expressions of interest.

The judges said Worcester’s meeting centres were “innovative, practical and the result of a genuine partnership between a research centre and local help points”, describing the Association for Dementia Studies team as a “truly dedicated group who stepped in decisively when funding was at risk”.

Outstanding Entrepreneurial University

Sponsored by

Loughborough University


Loughborough University’s winning entry centres on the establishment of a new enterprise ecosystem.

A pro vice-chancellor for enterprise now leads a team made up of associate deans for enterprise from each academic school; enterprise work has been embedded in employment contracts for academic staff; and the institution is home to the UK’s largest university science park.

As a result, in 2017-18 the university secured enterprise funding to commercialise 41 projects across each school, including a street-level flood prediction system, a railway track switch with the potential to prevent 90 per cent of delays caused by points failures, and a new system for measuring blind spots in trucks that, it is estimated, could save more than 500 lives per year in Europe.

In the 2017-18 academic year, more than 1,500 students engaged with over 1,000 companies on year-long industry placements, which are now available on all undergraduate programmes. There was a 166 per cent increase in enrolment in year-long placements for business start-ups for the year that followed.

The judges said Loughborough was a “worthy winner” because it took “a truly holistic approach” to embedding entrepreneurialism in the work of staff and students.

“The highlights include associate deans for enterprise in every faculty, recognition in all staff contracts, year-long placements for more than 1,500 students, placements for those who wish to start up a business and Loughborough’s engagement in regional enterprise,” they said.

Outstanding Estates Strategy

Sponsored by

Harper Adams University


Harper Adams University’s efforts to drastically reduce its carbon emissions led to its topping the Outstanding Estates Strategy category.

The institution pioneered the use of food-based anaerobic digestion systems to supply most of its on-campus electricity, but unfortunately these systems suffered collapse in 2014. Despite the extensive clear-up operation this required, the university was determined to maintain its commitment to curbing carbon emissions, and it went on to forge a completely new renewable energy strategy.

A substantial photovoltaic array, sited on a number of its larger farm buildings, is said to be among the largest roof-mounted installations in the UK. Linked to this are a gas-powered combined heat and power (CHP) system and a woodchip biofuel heating system to supplement the CHP engine.

The initiative presented a number of challenges. A super-insulated 3.5km-long heating ring main had to be installed across campus roads and public highways, and under sports fields and sensitive habitats, with minimal disruption. Although the process of recovery has not been easy, Harper Adams is now very much back on track to reduce its energy costs and meet its carbon emissions targets through a network designed to generate 75 per cent of its electricity and 80 per cent of its heat.

The judges praised Harper Adams for “significant leadership in sustainable development” through an approach that “demonstrated both vision and resilience. Vision in that they had invested significantly in sustainable development as a clear step change for the university, and resilience in that when disaster struck, they took the opportunity to deliver a much-improved and expanded version of their previous scheme.”

Outstanding Financial Performance

Sponsored by

University of West London


Securing a 60 per cent increase in net surplus that has enabled investment in the campus and student support won the University of West London recognition for Outstanding Financial Performance.

The university’s income rose by 10 per cent, or £10 million, between 2017 and 2018, while its net operating surplus grew by almost two-thirds, to £16 million.

That strong financial performance has allowed for significant investment in UWL’s campuses, in new technologies, in state-of-the-art facilities and in staff. Highlights of these investments included the purchase of its new site in Brentford, a new sports facility, a new postgraduate and international student centre, and a Boeing 737 flight simulator to support aviation students.

Surpluses have also enabled a transformation of the student experience, evidenced by the university’s rise of 65 places in less than two years in the Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide. Robust institutional finances have also allowed for an investment boost of almost £5 million in student bursaries, scholarships and targeted services to support student access and progression.

The finance team’s vigorous performance grew out of a five-year strategic plan, coupled with a financial strategy that monitored performance based on five key metrics, including surplus generation.

The judges said: “The University of West London clearly demonstrated the critical role that finance plays in enabling and supporting the university’s strategic objectives. A strong submission evidenced sustainability and integration with university strategy.”

Outstanding Library Team

Sponsored by

University of Kent


At the University of Kent, the library team is committed to creating an inclusive, diverse and accessible information environment while providing students with the content they need to succeed. To achieve this, it embarked on two major collaborations designed to support curriculum development and to contribute to an excellent student experience.

The first involved working with the student services department to create inclusive learning plans that linked up with online library reading lists. Such lists shape what students read, so it is crucial that they incorporate a range of alternative or marginalised perspectives. As part of the wider institutional diversity strategy, the library team is committed to enhancing the representation of female and ethnic minority voices in the university collections.

Through the Diversity Mark initiative, the library team joined forces with the academic team to address calls for UK universities to develop diverse curricula.

As a result, staff and students now co-create academic reading lists. Four schools are already involved, and others are seeking to engage. The process has sparked class discussions, raised student awareness and incorporated the “student voice”. As curricula change to better reflect the diverse communities the university serves, the library’s physical and virtual holdings mirror the transformation.

The judges remarked on the team’s “inventive collaboration” and its “particularly noteworthy” innovation in fostering co-created reading lists. They said the work was an example of “collaborative working in the digital and physical environment” that sought to “transform” the student experience by building inclusivity and diversity into learning and research.

Outstanding Marketing/Communications Team

Sponsored by

Loughborough University


Loughborough University’s in-house marketing and advancement team was described by judges as a “dynamic” unit that exceeded “wide-ranging targets consistently” and made a variety of significant contributions that were instrumental in the institution’s overall success.

Its 2017-18 targets covered income, recruitment, brand and media impact, and the team surpassed them all within budget, including achieving a 23 per cent increase in media coverage in 2017 and a further 12 per cent in 2018.

The team’s engagement activities included handwritten “good luck” cards to applicants and a festival-themed clearing campaign that led to post-results recruitment being more than 100 students above target.

Marketing for international students was refreshed, leading to tuition fee income expanding by 16 per cent on 2017, while applications from the UK and the European Union climbed by 12 per cent, against sector average growth of less than 1 per cent.

In addition, the team has led hugely successful fundraising initiatives, including a drive to support dementia research, and it has bolstered the community through events such as Heart 2 Heart, where more than 1,000 people received CPR training in one day. It even arranged for the RAF’s Red Arrows display team to do a graduation-day fly-past.

According to the judges, Loughborough’s team is “bolstered by strong and active leadership support” and “effectively promotes the university’s ‘engagement, inclusivity, belonging and advocacy’ ethos”. Significantly, they remarked, “its highly integrated campaigns linking recruitment, marketing and PR activities have played a huge part in the university’s recent success, whether measured by income, student and academic recruitment or alumni engagement”.

Outstanding Research Supervisor of the Year

Sponsored by

Tong Sun, City, University of London


In 2008, Tong Sun became the first female professor of engineering at City, University of London.

More than a decade later, the discipline remains heavily male-dominated, but Professor Sun is doing her best to change this by mentoring numerous female doctoral students, many of whom have since thrived in both academia and industry.

Former students testified that her hands-on style – meeting with them at least two or three times a week, often in the laboratory – had been invaluable, particularly for those with family responsibilities, and had helped them to complete their doctorates and then to secure jobs.

“Her approach resulted in me having a good publication and research record, which enabled my university to employ me as a lecturer, even prior to my PhD defence,” said one former student.

Even while being treated for cancer, Professor Sun kept in regular contact with students and arranged industry-based tests on which their PhDs depended – a commitment that showed her “indomitable spirit and sense of responsibility”, said one current PhD student.

Given her willingness to “go the extra mile” to support international PhD students, Professor Sun “stood out in a strong field of shortlisted candidates”, our judges said.

“Her record of supervising many doctoral candidates from diverse cultural and social backgrounds and supporting them to successful completion and beyond was truly impressive,” they added. Professor Sun is, the judges concluded, a “role model for her female supervisees, encouraging them to be assertive in the male-dominated world of engineering”.

Outstanding Strategic Planning Team

Sponsored by

Sheffield Hallam University


The judges were impressed by the ability of the strategic planning team at Sheffield Hallam University to embed its “Transforming Lives” vision into every element of what the institution does.

Recognising that previous strategies had lacked clarity of vision, the team ensured that the plan pushed forward fundamental change in every aspect of Sheffield Hallam’s operations to advance it towards its goal of becoming “the world’s leading applied university”. At every stage, care was taken to see that the strategy was relevant, understood and implemented across the whole university.

By reorganising governance structures, aligning business planning to the strategy, designing new staff capabilities and creating a strategic investment fund, the team has seen its work make a clear impact. The percentage of graduates in highly skilled employment or further study has increased, the university has risen up the recent Times Higher Education Europe Teaching Rankings and other UK league tables, and its performance in the National Student Survey has improved dramatically.

The judges said the initiative caught their attention “due to its wide-ranging and effective approach to strategy formation, embedding and implementation”.

“The engagement of stakeholders from across the university has led to changes in governance, business planning and focus at an individual level that have resulted in significant jumps in NSS scores and university rankings,” they said.

Outstanding Support for Students

Sponsored by

Newcastle University


Mounting anxiety and depression among students is one of the biggest challenges facing UK higher education, and Newcastle University has not been immune: it recorded a 24.5 per cent increase in demand for counselling and mental health support in 2017.

With students facing long waiting times for NHS treatment, Newcastle’s response was to set up an in-house service, the Psychological Therapies Training and Research Clinic, delivering cognitive behavioural therapy. The service treats students who have been assessed by counselling staff as being suitable for CBT, and is delivered by staff involved in Newcastle’s postgraduate courses in the area.

After its launch in February 2018, the service treated 26 students in its first year. Most of them completed treatment, and a large majority reported a successful recovery. Waiting times stood at less than two months, compared with eight to 10 months for equivalent NHS treatment.

Now the service has secured more than £400,000 from the Office for Students to support its expansion, and the university is footing the bill for the creation of five dedicated clinic rooms on campus.

The judges said Newcastle had demonstrated “an innovative approach to a common problem”.

“In an era of financial constraints, the team at Newcastle thought laterally and utilised staff from therapy training programmes,” the panel said. “Imaginative and practical, the new scheme reflected the university’s desire to offer the highest level of support to its students.”

Outstanding Technician of the Year

Sponsored by

Barbara Kunz, The Open University


Geochemist Barbara Kunz was, the judges decided, the “stand-out nomination” in our new award category, which aims to highlight the vital role of technicians in teaching, research and knowledge transfer.

Based at The Open University on a multi-institution project exploring giant copper ore deposits, Dr Kunz’s main role is to support other researchers in performing geochemical analyses, to prepare samples, to develop new analytical techniques and generally to manage the project.

However, Dr Kunz has contributed much more, colleagues said. “Barbara seamlessly switches between the roles of academic, teacher and technical staff,” said a colleague, adding that she “publishes research outputs at a pace that surpasses many academics”.

Her insights have led to new avenues of research, and she plays an active role in PhD supervision, a colleague at Imperial College London said. Another expressed amazement at “Barbara’s attention to detail, her willingness to adapt to a new analytical challenge and her relentless pursuit of the highest-quality data”. Dr Kunz was also praised for her willingness to talk openly to PhD students about the anxiety attacks she suffered in her doctoral studies.

“Dr Kunz embodies the very essence of the inaugural Outstanding Technician category,” our judges said. “She enables and drives research through the application of her theoretical and practical expertise and advanced equipment capabilities and experimental methodologies.”

Her work to “empower students and colleagues to be aware of and to care for their mental health” and her outreach activities to encourage more people into scientific careers were also highly commended. She was, the judges said, an “inspiring example of a truly outstanding technician”.

Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Sponsored by

Birmingham City University


Most people are unaware of the huge contribution made by Muslim soldiers to the Allied cause in the First World War. They were largely overlooked even during the recent centenary celebrations.

To close that gap in knowledge, Islam Issa – senior lecturer in English literature at Birmingham City University – examined thousands of personal letters, archives, regimental diaries and census records. His research demonstrated that at least twice as many Allied Muslim soldiers (885,000) took part in the war as had been previously reported, of whom at least 89,000 were killed in action. He was also able to uncover many intriguing details that brought individual soldiers’ stories to life.

One of the main outputs of this research was a pioneering exhibition, The Stories of Sacrifice, curated by Dr Issa for the British Muslim Heritage Centre. Free packs were made available for schools, the armed forces made a number of group visits and some of the findings were introduced into training days for cadets.

Even more significantly, at a time of heightened tension around the Manchester Arena attacks in May 2017, the Greater Manchester Police asked for a mobile version of the exhibition to be set up in its headquarters. It later acknowledged how important this had been for non-Muslim staff and how it had helped to combat the dangers involved in racial profiling.

The judges acclaimed the project as “a terrific piece of historical recovery” notable for “the strength of its primary research”, “the timeliness of its conception” and the impact that its “eye-opening results” have had.

Research Project of the Year: STEM

Sponsored by

University of Portsmouth


The University of Portsmouth came top in this category after researchers engineered an enzyme that breaks down some of the world’s most common plastic pollutants.

The research, which was conducted by British-based scientists from Portsmouth and the University of Oxford as well as others in the US and Brazil, has attracted global attention.

It started after John McGeehan, professor of structural biology at Portsmouth, and a US colleague discovered in a Japanese recycling facility a bacterium that lives on a diet of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The bacterium produced an enzyme whose structure was similar to one evolved by many bacteria to break down cutin – a natural polymer used as a protective coating by plants. Manipulating the enzyme to explore this connection, researchers discovered that it started breaking down PET into its original building blocks within days.

The research team worked with Portsmouth’s press team to develop a media campaign that kicked off when their paper was published on Earth Day. The study ranked in the Altmetric top 100, which highlights research that has generated significant international media attention, and it is in the top 5 per cent of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.

The UK pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is already helping to scale up enzyme production for the project. Meanwhile, with university support and a £6 million external grant, the institution has launched a Centre for Enzyme Innovation to develop further research on novel solutions for plastic recycling.

The judges praised the team’s work and said that “it has the potential to revolutionise the recycling of plastics”.

Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year

Sponsored by

Swansea University


An online platform that has “revolutionised” how students engage with their university has been recognised as Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year.

Swansea University’s multi-device student voice platform Unitu allows students to post and comment anonymously on college- and university-wide boards, and staff will respond to the issues raised.

The platform was developed to ensure that the university had access to the “authentic” student voice because the filtering effect of traditional university feedback mechanisms can distort or misrepresent the student experience. The technology also allows students who are hard to reach or do not engage through traditional channels to be heard.

On Unitu, a student can see which staff members have opened a post, view their response and learn the resolution. The platform is run and moderated by the student representative community, who respond and provide progress updates. It has led to student-led debates on a range of topics such as gender equality and effective learning and assessment strategies.

Some 14,000 students now have access to Unitu, which was rolled out in 2017-18. In the first year, there were more than 70,000 interactions. Swansea says the platform has already led to changes in learning and teaching, sustainable transport and catering, and has also provided a way of celebrating success and good practice.

The judges praised Unitu for revolutionising “the way the university engages with learners about key issues, such as well-being and transport”. They added: “Unitu itself is an edtech start-up product that has been significantly enhanced in response to feedback from the university.”

THE DataPoints Merit Award

Sponsored by

King's College London


For this year’s THE DataPoints Merit Award, our team took a fresh look at the data submitted by UK institutions for our inaugural University Impact Rankings.

These rankings focus on the success of universities around the world in meeting specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including ensuring quality education at every level, taking action on climate change and making communities and cities more sustainable.

For the overall ranking, scores were collated from an assessment of university performance across 11 of the 17 SDGs. But for this award, the team homed in on performance across two SDGs that aim to reduce gender and social inequalities.

The gender equality ranking focuses on universities’ research, policies and commitment to recruiting and promoting women. Specific metrics included the share of total research output authored by women, the proportion of first-generation female students on campus and the share of female senior academics.

Meanwhile, for the reduced inequalities ranking, scholarship on social inequalities, policies on discrimination and commitment to recruiting staff and students from under-represented groups were the focus for scoring. Here, metrics included examining how many students were the first in their family to go to university, student recruitment from developing countries and the proportion of staff and students with a disability.

The winner of the THE DataPoints Merit Award, King’s College London, achieved a global rank of 10th and 12th, respectively, in the “gender equality” and “reduced inequalities” tables thanks to its achievements in these areas.

THE Lifetime Achievement Award

Sponsored by

Dame Athene Donald


It is a truth universally acknowledged that higher education has work to do on gender equality. That the sector is far from alone in this is not a reason for the issue to be anything but an urgent priority.

There are numerous national and institutional programmes aimed at improving equality in academic disciplines (particularly in STEM fields) and at tackling the “leaky pipeline” affecting career progression and routes to the top.

But gender equality was not always such a high-profile cause in academia, and Dame Athene Donald has been both a pioneer and one of the most enduring voices in putting it centre stage.

As a physicist specialising in soft matter and physics at the interface of biology, she has been based at the University of Cambridge for most of her career, achieving distinction in her discipline and serving as a member of the scientific council of the European Research Council from 2013 to 2018. As an academic leader, she has served as master of Churchill College, Cambridge since 2014.

And as a standard-bearer for girls and women in higher education and research, she has taken up the mantle in her own institution – as Cambridge’s gender equality champion from 2010 to 2014 – and as a prolific blogger, campaigner and public advocate. This work continues, and she is currently participating in the independent review into the Athena SWAN Charter.

Dame Athene’s indefatigable and pioneering work on this vitally important issue has led the way and has inspired others to follow. For this, she is a worthy winner of the Times Higher Education Lifetime Achievement Award.

University of the Year

Sponsored by

University of Strathclyde


This year’s winner is an exemplar of a higher education institution that has taken on a vital social mission and excelled in delivering on that goal.

Returning to its founding vision as the “place of useful learning”, the University of Strathclyde set itself the task of reviving Scotland’s traditional industrial base with a scale of ambition that has multiplied rapidly over the past decade.

Key achievements in 2017-18 included Strathclyde’s selection as anchor university for the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, the opening of a Lightweight Manufacturing Centre and the development of the UK’s Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre. These centres, focused on creating collaborative solutions for industry that are ready for immediate implementation, build on the success of the Advanced Forming Research Centre, which supports big employers such as Rolls-Royce as well as smaller ones.

The university’s expansive, inclusive and collaborative approach is mirrored in the city centre, with the creation in 2017-18 of Scotland’s first innovation district, bringing researchers together with technology and creative start-ups in a vibrant, open community, and also in the institution’s approach to policy engagement, typified by Sir John Curtice (a THE Lifetime Achievement Award winner), who has been involved in the exit poll for every UK general election since 1992.

All this reflects Strathclyde’s embrace of an unconventional institutional mindset: its top priorities are the application of knowledge and the rapid response to commercial and social needs.

Its success in research and impact is mirrored by a strong commitment to access: one in eight young, full-time Scottish entrants to higher education from a disadvantaged background studies at Strathclyde.

Widening Participation or Outreach Initiative of the Year

Sponsored by

University of Strathclyde


With its Breaking Barriers programme, the University of Strathclyde is “pioneering” new ways to improve access to higher education for young people with learning disabilities, our judges said.

The scheme, which is fully funded by Strathclyde Business School, offers young people a taste of university education as well as vital work experience to improve their chances of securing employment.

The first cohort started in January 2018, with eight young people with learning disabilities attending Strathclyde for eight weeks of training in digital and social media marketing, people management and customer service. They were mentored by third-year undergraduates, and were given full access to university facilities.

This was followed by an eight-week work placement at Scottish Power, putting their newly acquired skills into practice. At the end of the programme, they graduated with a certificate in applied business skills, a 20-credit Level 4 qualification.

Since then, the scheme has doubled in size and welcomed Marriott Hotels as a new industry partner. Now Strathclyde is working to elevate Breaking Barriers to the status of a foundation programme that leads to admission to a graduate apprenticeship.

“The flexibility of Breaking Barriers means the university is able to offer a comprehensive and inclusive learning experience, as well as employment opportunities with major organisations that would not otherwise be available to a section of society who can often feel disengaged,” the judges said.

“This is eminently scalable, and it is hoped that many more young people will benefit from similar programmes elsewhere.”