Tony Blair hailed the achievements of the UK's world-beating higher education institutions in a filmed message for this week's Times Higher Awards, which revealed that Manchester University had been named Institution of the Year 2005.
The Prime Minister sent a video message to the 450 guests at the inaugural awards ceremony at London's Dorchester Hotel.
"I am very sorry that I can't be with you in person tonight," Mr Blair said. "But I wanted to take this chance to express my personal support for The Times Higher Awards and to send my congratulations to all of tonight's winners.
"I welcome these awards. They give us a chance to celebrate the achievements of the UK's universities - a sector where, thanks to your efforts, Britain is truly a world leader."
Mr Blair said that higher education had never been more important in a globalised economy where the "raw material that mattered was human capital".
Manchester had impressed with its successful merger with the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology last year, Mr Blair said.
"But what particularly impressed the judges," he continued, "was how, under the leadership of its vice-chancellor Alan Gilbert, Manchester's vision for the future and (its) determination to reinvigorate itself to become one of the top research universities in the world has enthused both staff and students."
Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, presented Manchester's award.
Winners were honoured in 13 categories across the higher education spectrum.