Outstanding Support for disabled Students
Brunel's Disability and Dyslexia Service set up support services for students with learning differences and for those with mental-health problems. It holds weekly meetings that allow students to share their experiences, ask for advice and build support networks across the university. Talking through their experiences enabled those who had recently been diagnosed with a disability to learn from those who had already developed coping strategies. The sessions proved especially valuable for students who felt isolated or had difficulty making connections outside their course. During the past academic year, 19 students attended.
Heriot-Watt set up a project examining the effect of binocular instability on students with dyslexia. This often-overlooked condition causes symptoms of visual discomfort involving apparent movement of text and inability to fix on lines of text, which lead to errors in reading. After assessment by a specialist optometrist, one student has increased her reading speed by 50 per cent. Others, who previously had to place coloured overlays on pages to read them, now have special glasses instead. Of the 11 students who were assessed, eight reported positive benefits. The university now plans to integrate binocular instability assessments into its initial screenings of dyslexic students.
The university has the highest percentage in Wales of students claiming the Disabled Student's Allowance - and the third highest in the UK. Yet these students are its most successful: 11.4 per cent were awarded first-class honours in 2007, compared with 6.9 per cent of other students. The institute makes innovative use of hardware to provide bespoke solutions for students with extreme mobility challenges. One student with cerebral palsy could use the fingers of only one hand to operate technology, but he completed a BSc in radio production after special equipment was provided by the university's School of Computing and Communications Technology. The Learning Support Suite has a centre for students with disabilities where they can have their practical skills assessed before starting their course.
The careers service at Oxford Brookes ran a course of intensive careers advice sessions for a group of second-year students with autism to help plan their post-university lives. Using group exercises and psychometric tests, it developed their skills in completing interviews and job applications and helped them to prepare for permanent employment. Of the six students who took part, four applied for work experience or voluntary work this summer, including one who secured a marketing placement. They gave enthusiastic feedback, and look forward to receiving continuing support during this academic year.
SMARTlab Digital Media Institute at the University of East London developed InterFACES, which uses gaze-controlled technology for communication by people with little or no other voluntary muscle movement. The project produces tailored solutions for students. As the technology is developed and becomes more widely available, it could benefit millions of people worldwide. Using InterFACES, an East London PhD student with severe cerebral palsy, who communicates by chin switches, is now able to write easily and even play music. The student has co-authored a book and given a concert.
With 9 per cent of students receiving the Disabled Student's Allowance, Plymouth has one of the biggest university disability support services in the UK. Its Disability Assist Services (DAS) led a pilot scheme to improve experiences of students with disabilities during work experiences. An "A to Z" guide was produced to highlight potential problems and identify solutions. A mentoring scheme has provided ten students with disabilities with tailored information on a range of topics, including job hunting, CVs and job requirements. Last summer, after nursing and social work students with dyslexia asked for help with the organisational elements of their placements, the DAS secured a TechDis award from the Joint Information Systems Committee to provide them with personal organisers.
Outstanding ICT initiative
More than half the employees of Coventry University Enterprises (CUE), the university's commercial arm, work flexibly since it introduced its Location Independent Working scheme. The programme's success led in April to an e-working pilot among 30 academics in the business, environment and society department. Participants in both schemes were given mobile technologies ranging from laptops and personal digital assistants to tablet PCs and smartphones, and were connected to a central server. One result of the initiative is an annual savings of £100,000 on office space. But there have been more personal benefits, too. Some 56 per cent of participants said that e-working had reduced their stress levels, while 64 per cent said it had improved their work-life balance. Coventry won the Best Flexible Working Organisation category in the 2007 Microsoft People Moving Business Awards.
Open University tutors are now using their Second Life (SL) space for teaching. Open Life, as it is called, is open to the whole university to support formal learning, peer discussion, collaboration and pedagogical research. The results suggest that SL offers great potential for open and distance learning, which dovetails with the OU's teaching strategy. SL overcomes many of the barriers of distance learning by allowing students to interact in real-time, emulating more naturalistic learning situations. According to the OU, appearing as avatars in SL makes some students less inhibited.
Since the start of the last academic year, Sheffield Hallam has delivered grades online, and students on many modules have begun to submit coursework via the web. The Blackboard Gradebook publishes grades and feedback, which allows students to track performance on assessment tasks to build an overall profile. The system presents comments - which staff can produce with the help of Feedback Wizard - "in context", alongside links to materials for review. Students must engage with feedback through the university's bespoke Assignment Handler before their grade is released. The technology has now been used in the assessment of 10,000 students and has attracted the interest of other universities.
Until recently, e-learning at the university's School of Modern Languages and Cultures consisted of a few WebCT courses and a handful of enthusiasts. Now however, the One-Stop-Language-Shop, which has been set up with the university's Information Services, allows students and academics to access multimodal interactive language-learning materials through a self-access language-learning platform covering the 14 languages that are taught in the school. The One-Stop-Language-Shop provides development tools, self-test quizzes, games and activities that develop understanding of parts of speech that are based on text input by the user. Tutors need little technical knowledge to create content. In 2007, the tools were rolled out across the whole school and are now embedded in the curriculum.
The university's Great War Archive Initiative is a national programme that encourages submission of online memorabilia or family anecdotes. In March, Oxford set up a simple website for members of the public to submit digital photographs and record war-related stories. It also held open days at which items could be brought to a local library or museum for scanning. In its first two months, nearly 4,000 items were collected, with many more coming in before closing date at the end of June. Cost was minimal compared with standard digitisation projects, and Oxford claims to have demonstrated an effective way of interesting the public in archiving and found a new method for performing mass digitisation and cataloguing of geographically dispersed items.
Westminster academic Russell Stannard is integrating Web 2.0 technologies into education by creating step-by-step teacher and student training videos that are watched by online viewers worldwide. In August 2007, they were uploaded to the computer scientist's website, which attracts 5,000 to 10,000 hits per month. There are now 30 videos, with two or three added each month. On the back of the project's success, the university has funded a second site, offering free training videos in using multimedia programs such as Flash, Director and Photoshop.
Outstanding Student Financial Support Package
Last academic year, nine De Montfort students received a £1,000 bursary and pastoral support as part of an initiative to overcome the challenges faced by students from a care background. Students are guided through available support such as the Access to Learning Fund, to which a "care background" criterion has been added. Those receiving support are assigned a designated worker who maintains regular contact, offers help on a range of topics such as accommodation and travel, and liaises with social workers if required. Advice includes help with university applications, student funding, travel to university and preparation for independent living.
Institute of Education, University of London
The institute's Centenary Scholarships seek to reduce long-term global poverty through investment in 26 educationists from Africa, South America and Asia. Thirteen scholarships, worth a total of £85,500, were awarded between July 2007 and June 2008. These fund places on postgraduate or research degrees - a rarity in the scholars' countries of origin - in education. Money comes from personal donations made by staff, alumni and friends of the institute. The institute regards its achievement as greater than other higher education fundraising drives because the majority of its alumni are teachers rather than high earners.
The university has introduced a number of bursaries. Its means-tested bursary targets students facing full tuition fees. Details of the package, which has a value ranging from £205 to £1,025, are given to prospective students and their parents at university and school open days and events, and publicised externally. The Nottinghamshire bursary seeks to encourage enrolment among local students. Over the past 12 months, 1,098 have received awards of £100 to £250. The university also offers free accommodation to homeless people who wish to study. The Academic Scholarship Scheme nurtures academic talent among students from low-income households. Those who receive good grades at the end of the first year receive £2,000 a year during the second and subsequent years of study. There were 25 recipients last academic year and 50 this year.
In 2007, Oxford Brookes piloted a regional participation scholarship for state-school students in Oxfordshire. Schools and colleges can make one nomination apiece, with the aim of singling out outstanding students who show evidence of overcoming personal or social difficulties, or meet various other criteria. After deciding to expand the scheme to all 123 local state schools and colleges for this academic year, 50 students have been selected. The scheme supports the existing GO (guaranteed offer) scheme, which promises offers to applicants from Oxfordshire's state schools and colleges who meet minimum entry requirements.
The university provides financial support to low-income families in the form of annual bursaries open to students charged full tuition fees. Those with a household income of less than £25,000 receive £1,000; those with a household income between £25,001 and £30,000 receive £500. There were also 150 new £1,000 bursaries for students who were living or studying in Hampshire or the Isle of Wight whose parents had not been to university and who have a combined income of less than £30,000. A further initiative provided a £1,000 bursary to first-year students from the care system. More than 400 bursaries, in total, were awarded during the past academic year.
Working in partnership with the Frank Longford Charitable Trust, the university offers £10,000 scholarships to former prisoners. Westminster also sets aside ten scholarships for London care-leavers, a group with notoriously low participation rates in higher education. Scholarships are also available to students with major disabilities; financial support helps them keep student debt to a minimum as they often find it particularly difficult to gain well-paid employment after graduation. Entry-level scholarships encourage progression by rewarding success at the end of the first year. Up to half of the awards go to those entering from the university's five associate colleges, who are often from low-income backgrounds or the first in their family to enter higher education. About 800 students are benefiting from the scholarships this year.
Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community
Since July 2007, the university's Student Law Office, working under the supervision of 15 practising lawyers, has provided free legal consultations for 906 people and represented more than 500 clients, securing £200,000 in compensation payments. This year, it was awarded the Attorney General's National Pro Bono Law School Award. Many local people see the Student Law Office as their only means to access justice.
Queen Mary, University of London
Since it opened in January, Barts and The London Academic Dental Clinic in Southend has attracted some 3,000 patients for registration. Many had gone without treatment for years because dental provision in the area has been extremely scarce. The practice offers a convenient way for local people to access free routine dental treatment from senior dentistry students at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, part of Queen Mary, University of London.
Queen's University Belfast
Queen's has introduced a range of open-learning courses engaging positively with diversity and difference. They offer a way of meeting the needs of Northern Ireland as it emerges from more than 30 years of conflict. The Peace-building in Interface Communities course is delivered in North Belfast, which suffered badly during the years of violence. The Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination project worked with community groups to study the roots and consequences of prejudice. The Disability and Cultural Traditions project looks at exclusion by comparing the experience of disabled people with those who are excluded on sectarian grounds. It will become part of a publicly funded three-year project focusing on mental health in rural areas.
In the past year, 12 businesses have been set up with the help of AmazeYourself, Bradford's enterprise training and development programme for local people. A further 28 participants have found employment and ten have begun further education. Many of those helped by AmazeYourself come from the most deprived areas of Bradford. Working in a supportive and motivating environment, and drawing on the expertise and support of the local business community, they are helped to develop their business ideas and learn how to set up a business.
Brighton's Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP) recruits academic and student volunteers to offer their time and knowledge to hundreds of local community organisations. Amaze, an advice and support service for parents of children with special needs, said the CUPP had helped the organisation improve staff development and formulate funding proposals. The CUPP's other successes include working with Age Concern to prevent elderly people taking the wrong medication because they misunderstand their prescriptions and helping talented artists with severe learning difficulties to access university-level tuition.
Building on its global reputation for dementia research, Stirling carried out a one-year intensive improvement programme for dementia care in its area. With £200,000 in public funding, the Dementia Services Development Centre worked with local health and social services to provide free training and learning materials that staff in the private care-home sector would otherwise be unable to access.
Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development
The Sustainability Tool for Auditing University Curricula in Higher Education is a simple-to-use system for assessing and analysing the depth and breadth with which curricula teach sustainability. It was developed after Cardiff decided to run a systematic audit of curricula across the university's undergraduate teaching from a sustainable development perspective. The tool was successfully piloted during 2007, with more than 5,000 undergraduate courses being assessed against 36 criteria. The pilot led to presentations at sustainable development educational conferences, and the system is now being made available commercially to other institutions. All Welsh higher education institutions are to use the system to conduct the curriculum sustainable development audit required by the Assembly Government by the end of this year.
Edge Hill's eight-month-old Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning is housed in low- carbon premises. The building, which also houses the faculty of health, uses high-performance glass to maximise natural lighting; in smaller rooms with brick walls it provides a high thermal mass to absorb and store heat and reduce fluctuations in temperature. High-efficiency lighting, window actuators, infrared activated taps, high-performance insulation and stack-effect natural ventilation will save an estimated 65 tonnes of CO2 annually. An additional 43 tonnes is offset through the use of renewable technology. Solar thermal panels provide more than 50 per cent of the building's hot water, and a pump draws water from an underground aquifer, providing heating and additional cooling. Energy-saving computer monitors further cut energy consumption.
In 2007, Exeter reduced its CO2 emissions by 17 per cent and its water use by 9 per cent, as well as introducing a part-time online BA in environmental studies. It has cut CO2 by 6 per cent through improving insulation and draught-sealing and raising the efficiency of plant and heating. There have also been energy-saving campaigns by staff and students. Energy-saving, set to continue at 2 per cent a year despite expansion of the university, was further encouraged by "Green Champions". Its new Innovation Centre Phase 2 was rated "excellent" by the BREEAM, the global buildings environmental impact assessment. Exeter encourages green transport through interest-free season ticket loans and a car-share scheme that has saved 30 tonnes of emissions. The redeveloped library has biodegradable and recycled furniture. A sustainable procurement policy encourages staff to "think green".
Harper Adams University College
Last year, Harper Adams resolved to count food metres rather than food miles. The institution widened the product range from its own farm, in the process keeping canteen prices down and providing healthier food. Sustainable sourcing includes the use of pedigree Lleyn lamb, reared predominantly on grass in sites of high-conservation value, and pork provided from the farm's White Cross "Pietrain" Belgium-breed pigs. A poultry unit provides eggs, and herbs grown on campus are supplied throughout the summer. In 2009, Harper Adams hopes to source milk from a new dairy unit. Most water comes straight from the institution's own boreholes, while bottled water travels just 20 miles to the campus.
Designed to promote sustainable development in higher education, EcoCampus is an environmental management and award scheme led by Nottingham Trent in conjunction with other higher education institutions and industry. Energy savings of up to 10 per cent have already been reported by some of the participants in the project. Some 80 per cent of those who took part described the scheme as extremely useful. Full roll-out begins this autumn, with approximately 15 per cent of the sector across the UK already committed to participating. Nottingham Trent is now a Fairtrade institution, half of all electricity is from renewable sources, purchases are guided by a sustainability, and major cuts have been made in waste going to landfill.
Last academic year, Queen Margaret relocated to a new campus, which received an "excellent" rating from the BREEAM. The institution claims it will achieve a 75 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions - the highest in a UK university - by using a biomass heating system and woodchip boiler emission rather than traditional gas-fired heating. Daylight and natural ventilation is maximised through use of energy-efficient technology. A projected £100,000 a year will be cut from energy bills because PC users are wired to central servers instead of having hard drives at their desks, reducing the amount of heat produced and minimising the need for air conditioning. Drainage from roofs is collected and held on site in a special pond rather than released so as not to contribute to downstream flooding.