Higher Power: Stories behind the 2021 THE Awards winners

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University of the year

When Cara Aitchison joined Cardiff Metropolitan University five years ago, she had to make the decision to lose more than a tenth of its staff to voluntary layoffs as the institution – which had previously prevented a merger with other Welsh universities – on the verge of financial Instability.

Fast forward to 2021 and they brought the Times higher education Award for University of the Year returned to a campus where she said everyone felt they played a part in receiving the award.

“Every single employee [has had] exactly the same reaction … they think this award is for them. You can all see and believe that you have made a contribution. They don’t see it as if a group of employees won this award. You won this award. “

For Professor Aitchison, the emergence of this strong sense of community after such a difficult situation, along with the development of the existing “Pockets of Excellence”, is the main reason for the university’s success.

Cardiff Met’s strategic plan for 2017 is based on seven core priorities, including developing a Cardiff School of Technologies to meet local economic needs, developing 40 new degree programs, and improving research impact and quality.

But behind this was also a “value-driven” transformation of the management culture at the university.

Specifically, this meant initiatives such as a monthly executive exchange, during which executives across the organization could exchange ideas and best practices, as well as regular updates for employees on the progress made.

“I think we have built a high level of trust and respect through a number of mechanisms,” said Professor Aitchison. “People understood the values ​​and then I think they could see how we all live the values. You come in [a] Back then it was a kind of virtuous circle in which the people were more loyal to the organization and to each other. “

Professor Aitchison said this approach paid off tremendously with the Covid-19 outbreak and enabled him to fully involve staff when it began switching to online teaching in January 2020, well before the March lockdown .

Here, too, the university mantra of “compassionate leadership” bears fruit, for example by giving employees time to look after children and relatives when they are juggling under the pressure of home and work.

Outcomes of all of this included a much healthier financial position, above-average student satisfaction, and a two-thirds increase in research and innovation incomes in four years.

This has now meant that the university can embark on a major campus remodel and focus on its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2030.

Such “really big developments … just wouldn’t have been possible five years ago,” said Professor Aitchison.

But what she prides most is the people-centered approach: “I think it gives a really strong feeling that the Cardiff Met people want to serve the organization. It really got us thinking about somewhat old-fashioned notions of public service. “

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International cooperation of the year

For Shabbar Jaffar, Professor of Epidemiology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the central idea of ​​the Respond Africa research partnership was “very simple”. A number of “major diseases” – HIV, diabetes and high blood pressure – have very high death rates in Africa but are still “treated separately in vertical stand-alone clinics,” he said. “My idea was to bring them together and integrate that care.”

To make this vision a reality, Professor Jaffar has put together the team of international partners in the UK, the rest of Europe and Africa that have won the International Collaboration of the Year award. A key challenge was building trust not only between different stakeholders, but also between people from very different backgrounds.

One problem, explained Professor Jaffar, is an understandable distrust of some Africans of “Westerners who come in to do things”, of projects where Westerners “control everything because we come in with the money”. Key ways to address this included “transparency in decision-making” and a genuine commitment to equity, capacity building and empowerment, he added.

In addition, as head of department at the LSTM, Professor Jaffar attached great importance to “unconscious bias training”, for example through “small group workshops on the subject of racism”. Although he acknowledged that there is no “hard solution to racism”, “the ways in which a disease can be cured can be discussed, addressed … and racism aware”.

Respond Africa was initially introduced in certain regions of Tanzania and Uganda. Current plans were to expand interventions to the national level to see if they were equally effective in different settings – and from there to Cameroon and, Professor Jaffar hoped, “and eventually across Africa”.

Matthew Reisz


Outstanding contribution to equality, diversity and inclusion

When the Scottish government started providing funding to tackle period poverty in universities, Ruth Cochrane noted that it mostly went to facility managers: “Middle-aged men were given a check to buy tampons and they definitely didn’t know what to do with it should start. ”

For example, the lecturer in product design at Edinburgh Napier University co-produced a module for design and television students that tries to use the money, which led to the student collective Bleedin ‘Saor accepting the award for outstanding contribution to equality, diversity and inclusion .

Students gathered testimonials about the poverty of the period and found that access to products was not the only problem; there was also a lot of embarrassment about the period.

Several initiatives have emerged from this. One was a Bloody Big Brunch held on campus where hundreds of students bought a Bloody Mary and paid for with period products that were then donated to women in need.

The students designed dispensers for period products, which they called “menstrual stations,” which were placed in prominent positions on campus. Such units have now been installed in schools, colleges and universities across Scotland.

The television students of the module created Bleeding free, a documentary tracking the group’s progress and a visit to Uganda to meet organizations advocating gender equality and menstrual health.

For Ms. Cochrane, the elimination of period shame is related to broader gender equality. She said, “I’ve been a feminist my whole life and it feels like we kind of missed it … but the result of that is that women’s health isn’t getting the right funding it needs.

“About every third woman suffers from a weakening [period] Pain, what one would have thought in normal discourse, we might have done something about it in the meantime. “

Rosa Ellis


Research Advisor of the Year

After supervising dozen of agricultural engineering PhD students, Richard Godwin would have been expected to take it easy in retirement. But since leaving Cranfield University in 2007, the internationally renowned soil dynamics specialist has continued to look after doctoral students and, as a visiting professor at Harper Adams University, looks after researchers from Botswana to Bangladesh.

“I was an international student in Illinois myself, and that piqued my interest in helping these students,” said Professor Godwin, who is currently helping a Kenyan student get a PhD grant. “My area of ​​expertise is also very international – in fact, there are better job opportunities internationally than in the UK because we have to feed the world, not from the coast of the UK,” he added.

His former PhD students recently dialed in to an online party to hear about Professor Godwin’s win at THAT Awards, several of which show appreciation for his post-PhD mentorship.

“I didn’t do it on purpose, but that’s how I was supported in Illinois,” he said.

Many students also appreciate his willingness to be challenged, even after lifelong awards and much-cited work.

Professor Godwin intends to gradually withdraw from supervision, but if necessary still gets his hands dirty in the field (literally): “Sometimes they say that I can dig both advanced calculus and holes, as well as everything in between – I’ll see what happens next and leave it to chance. “

Jack Grove


Excellent marketing / communication team

With Oxford University researchers playing a vital role in the fight against Covid, its Directorate of Public Affairs has put a global communications strategy into action to demonstrate this role and build knowledge to people around the world.

This has helped ensure that Oxford had an impact on policies from getting the vaccine to the wearing of face coverings as the pandemic progressed on critical projects.

The communications strategy aimed to make Oxford “an important source of information for our communities, the media, policy makers, research funders and philanthropists,” said Alexander Buxton, director of strategic communications for the university. “This was achieved while we supported our scientists around the clock with burglary and reputation issues and mostly worked remotely.”

This meant collaboration between researchers, communication professionals, public engagement experts, science communicators, and people with digital skills.

“Together we worked with a great pinch of creativity on the guiding principles of accuracy, timing and transparency,” said Buxton’s human-centered approach to scientific storytelling, combating disinformation in a variety of forms “.

The team is “immensely grateful for this recognition of the teamwork and dedication the pandemic has created in our internal and external communications, creative, digital, events and public affairs teams,” he added.

John Morgan

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