Gongs for the gang

November 18, 1994

Winners of the first Queen's Anniversary Prizes for Further and Higher Education are published today. The prizes, set up with funds remaining from the Queen's 40th anniversary year celebrations, are designed to publicise and give credit for the contribution universities and colleges make to the nation's life -- social, economic, cultural and intellectual.

In recent years universities have begun, somewhat cheekily, to enter themselves for Queen's Awards for Exports which were not originally set up with them in mind. Now they have their own prizes with which The THES is proud to be associated. The THES has argued frequently that diversity is essential if further and higher education is effectively to meet students' and employers' needs and that diversity can only flourish if many types of excellence are celebrated. These prizes, which will be presented every other year until 2002, will go some way to reward such diversity. They are intended to boost further and higher education institutions and to encourage innovation: the brief deliberately discouraged entries for scholastic excellence and pure research and for individual pre-eminence. This is not because these are not valued but because they are well-known and recognised in other ways.

The business of setting up and awarding Queen's Prizes is a thoroughly Establishment one. The Awards Council is chaired by Lord Younger and includes the Secretary to the Cabinet, Sir Robin Butler, the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, Sir Tim Lankester and the former chairman of the Science and Engineering Research Council, Sir Mark Richmond. The prize-winners' list is cleared with the Prime Minister before it is published. Nothing then could be less "alternative".

What is interesting therefore is what the great and good in 1994 want to encourage. Prizes have been awarded for safety training for work in the North Sea; vocational training for the polymer industry in collaboration with the French; flexible learning workshops to help students upgrade their skills for work; technical-managerial training for the oil industry; environment policy, management and regulation; exploitation of intellectual property. The number of awards for projects of this kind far outnumber those which might once have been more usual -- help for the disabled, care for cancer patients, community accessibility. The message is pretty clear. On top of their academic role, universities and colleges are being officially encouraged to take a major role in training and industrial development. They do it rather well.

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