Aston University has been crowned University of the Year in The Guardian's annual awards for its work to eradicate the grade gap between black, Asian and ethnic minority students ( BAME) and its white peers, as well as its emphasis on sustainability.
In a year during which UK universities have faced unprecedented challenges in moving their curricula online and following government advice to bring students to campus, excellent work has continued. This award honors universities that focus on providing opportunities for all of their students, regardless of their background.
Now in its second year, the award is calculated based on several measures, including performance and improvement on The Guardian Leaderboards; how well universities retain students who come from areas of low participation in higher education; and whether black, Asian, and ethnic minority students do as well as their white peers.
“As the university with the highest percentage of BAME students in the country (68%), we are committed to ensuring that all of our students have the same opportunities and that it is not just about admitting them, but also about ensuring that they receive support to remain in college and get good results, ”says Professor Alec Cameron, president of Aston University.
Cameron highlights the university's unusual mandatory placement year as key to this strategy. The placement year has been shown to improve the grades of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in addition to narrowing the grade gap between BAME students and their white peers. It also reinforces the university's emphasis on courses leading to professions, including business, engineering, and healthcare, which are especially popular with Aston students.
“These are the areas in which our students come to earn degrees – they 'are aspiring to pursue opportunities that were not available to their parents,” he says. “They may not have had some of the academic opportunities before college that students from other parts of the country might have received, but they come with ambition, aspiration and commitment. They work hard and get great results. "
Aston's performance was bolstered by its rise up the Guardian leaderboards, which focus on the college activities that matter most to young people: Teaching Quality , student satisfaction and employability. In recent years, the university has given priority to hiring additional teaching staff, which has increased its score in the ratio of students to staff.
Helen Higson, Vice Chancellor Attached, says the university focused on staff with strong teaching qualifications and experience. "We recruited an additional 200 academics at a time when many other institutions were cutting employment," it says.
This year, for the first time , the award included the People & Planet sustainability ranking, in which Aston scored 9. The university has just launched a new strategy aimed at reducing environmental r emissions and waste on campus, working with sustainable suppliers and integrating the green agenda into all its courses and curricula.
“This matters because it is a global crisis and we are an organization that can have a impact, so we need to make sure we work to reduce our footprint, ”says Andrew Bryers, Aston's manager of energy, environment and sustainability. “Students see the climate crisis and it is on their radar. They are putting pressure on universities to ethically fund themselves, move away from fossil fuels, reuse and recycle. ”
The Guardian Award also provides bonus points for racing awards; Athena Swan Awards, which reflect gender balance; and Stonewall's classification of good practices on LGBT issues.
There were also 14 other winners in all categories at the Guardian University awards. The complete list is below, with details of the related projects.
Buildings That Inspire
Winner: Aston University
Runners -up: Kingston University, London School of Economics and Political Science
Winner: University of Birmingham
Finalists: Manchester Metropolitan University, Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey
Course design, retention, and student outcomes
Winner: Manchester Metropolitan University
Finalists: Coventry University, Kingston University