The first annual awards to recognise the achievements of universities, colleges and the people who work in them are launched this week by The Times Higher .
Fourteen awards, covering a wide range of higher education activities, will be presented at a dinner in London in November. The deadline for entries is the end of June.
The initiative has the backing of the Prime Minister and the Department for Education and Skills, as well as leading figures in the academic world.
Kim Howells, the Higher Education Minister, said: "I am delighted to support these awards, which recognise the best in higher education. The higher education sector has much to be proud of and I look forward to celebrating its successes."
The winning entries will be selected by panels of experts in each area.
Among those who have agreed to take part are Sir Christopher Evans, chairman of the Merlin Biosciences venture capital group, Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, and Bernadette Porter, former vice-chancellor of Roehampton University.
The sponsors include major technology companies. Adobe will support the award for the Most Imaginative use of Distance Learning, Research Machines the award for the Best Student Experience and Toshiba the Outstanding Initiative for Widening Participation. Individual awards, with cash prizes of £5,000, will go to the Young Academic Author of the Year and Young Researcher of the Year.
Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said:
"I'm delighted that The Times Higher is offering an award to young researchers and I hope that this will encourage more young people into science."
Institutional honours will include the Higher Education Institution of the Year and the Commonwealth University of the Year. Other categories have been chosen to reflect excellence in universities and colleges of all types.
The awards are intended to fill a gap in the higher education scene. While schools have the Teacher of the Year Awards and further education has the Star Awards and the Beacon Awards, there is no equivalent for higher education, which has had to make do with specialist honours in a number of fields.
It is hoped "the Highers" will become a regular fixture in the university and college calendar.