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April 14, 2006

Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development

With soaring energy prices, local authority limits on campus parking spaces and student pressure on purchasing policies, green issues are rising up the institutional agenda.

The Times Higher 's award for Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development, launched this year, will recognise those institutions or departments that take the most imaginative and comprehensive approach to sustainable development. The judges will consider everything from new sustainable buildings and waste recycling to fair-trade procurement and green travel plans.

The award is being made in association with Forum for the Future, whose co-founder, Sara Parkin, is one of the judges. The other judges are Dominic Houlihan, professor of zoology and vice-principal of Aberdeen University, and Elaine Thomas, rector of University College for the Creative Arts.

Ms Parkin said: "This award will hopefully mean the end of just exhorting universities to 'do something' about sustainable development, and will mark the beginning of recognising and celebrating some really superb innovations."

Forum for the Future was keen to get involved with the award because it knew, through its Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability, just how much commitment and activity there was in the sector, Ms Parkin said.

"We are delighted that universities that are progressing with sustainable development - despite some pretty tricky challenges - have the chance to get the mainstream recognition they deserve."

The three judges will be particularly interested in entries that can be a model of best practice for the rest of the sector in the effort to tackle the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development.

Most Imaginative Use of Distance Learning

Distance learning is no longer a quirky add-on to campus courses - academics in all disciplines employ it to keep students plugged in. The Times Higher 's award for Most Imaginative Use of Distance Learning, which is open to individuals, departments and institutions, rewards innovation in helping students to get the greatest benefit regardless of location.

Last year's winner was the UHI Millennium Institute's BA in cultural studies, led by Orkney College and taught through nine institutions across the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Donna Heddle, director of Orkney's Centre for Nordic Studies, is enthusiastic about the benefits. "Lots of people have contacted me since we won the award, and it has opened up great networking links with universities in the UK and internationally," she said.

"I think that it is an excellent idea for academics to get recognition like this - particularly for distance learning, which uses technology to enable remote students to achieve their potential."

She particularly enjoyed the awards ceremony. "The dinner was a glamorous and entertaining event. It is always good to get a posh frock on."

All three of last year's judges have signed up again: Gr inne Conole, professor and head of Southampton University's Postcompulsory Education and Training Research Centre; Sir John Daniel, president of the Commonwealth of Learning; and Erica McAteer, senior lecturer in Strathclyde University's Applied Educational Research Centre Sir John said: "Recognition of the excellence of their output is a powerful motivator for people who are working at the cutting edge of the use of distance-learning technologies, most especially as their skills are not always fully appreciated in their own institutions. I am proud to support these awards as one of the judges."

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