More Power: The Stories Behind The 2021 THE Awards Winners
University of the year
When Cara Aitchison joined Cardiff Metropolitan University five years ago, she had to make the decision to lose more than a tenth of her staff to voluntary layoffs, as the institution – which had previously avoided a merger along with other Welsh universities – was on the verge of financial instability. .
Fast forward to 2021, and she was bringing the Times Higher Education award for University of the Year on a campus where she said everyone felt they had a role in earning this honor.
“Each staff member [has had] exactly the same reaction… They believe this award is for them. They can all see and believe that they have made a contribution. They don’t see it as if a group of employees have won this award. They won this award.
For Professor Aitchison, the emergence of this strong sense of community after being in such a difficult position is the main reason for the success of the university, in addition to developing the “pockets of excellence” it already possessed.
Cardiff Met’s 2017 strategic plan revolved around seven main priorities, including developing a Cardiff School of Technology to help meet local economic needs, developing 40 new curricula and improving the impact and quality of the research.
But at the root of these was also a “values-driven” transformation of the culture of leadership at the university.
Concretely, this meant initiatives such as a monthly leadership exchange, where managers from across the institution could share ideas and good practices, as well as regular updates for staff on progress.
“I think we have built a high level of trust and respect through a number of mechanisms,” said Professor Aitchison. “People understood the values and I think they got to see us all living the values. You enter [a] sort of virtuous circle when people were more loyal to the organization and to each other.
Professor Aitchison said this approach paid huge dividends when Covid-19 hit, allowing him to fully engage staff as he began his transition to online education in January 2020, long before the lockdown in March.
The university’s mantra of ‘compassionate leadership’ has also borne fruit here, too, she said, for example by giving staff time to care for children and loved ones when faced with crisis. pressure to juggle home and work.
The results of it all have included a much healthier financial situation, above-average student satisfaction, and research and innovation income increasing by two-thirds in four years.
This has now led to a situation where the university can embark on a major campus redevelopment and focus on its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2030.
Such “truly major developments … simply would not have been possible five years ago,” said Professor Aitchison.
However, the people-centered approach is what she is most proud of: “I think through that there is a very strong feeling that the people at Cardiff Met want to serve the organization. It really made us think quite deeply about somewhat old-fashioned notions of public service. “
International collaboration of the year
For Shabbar Jaffar, chair of epidemiology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the central idea behind the Reply Africa research partnership was “very straightforward”. A number of “big diseases” – HIV, diabetes and hypertension – have very high death rates in Africa, but still tend to be “managed separately, in stand-alone vertical clinics,” he said. he declares. “My idea was to bring them together and integrate this care.
To make this vision a reality, Professor Jaffar brought together the team of international partners in the UK, the rest of Europe and Africa to win the International Collaboration of the Year award. A crucial challenge was to build trust not only between different stakeholders, but also between people from very different backgrounds.
One of the problems, explained Professor Jaffar, was the understandable distrust of some Africans of “Westerners coming to fix the problems”, projects in which the West “controls everything because we come with the money. “. Critical ways to address this issue include “transparency in decision-making” and a genuine commitment to equity, capacity building and empowerment of others, he added.
In addition, as head of department at LSTM, Professor Jaffar has placed great emphasis on “training in unconscious prejudices”, for example through “small group workshops focusing on racism”. While he acknowledged that there is no “hard solution to racism”, of how you could cure a medical problem, “you can discuss, attack yourself … and keep abreast of racism”.
Respond Africa was initially launched in specific regions of Tanzania and Uganda. Current plans were to scale up interventions at the national level to see if they were equally effective in different contexts – and from there to Cameroon and, according to Professor Jaffar, “ultimately across Africa”.
Outstanding contribution to equality, diversity and inclusion
When the Scottish government started providing funds to tackle menstrual poverty in universities, Ruth Cochrane noted that it mainly went to principals: “Middle aged men got a check to buy tampons and they certainly didn’t know what to do with it. “
So the Product Design Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University co-produced a module for design and TV students looking to use the money, which led to the Bleedin ‘Saor student collective to win the award for outstanding contribution to equality, diversity and inclusion. .
The students gathered testimonies of menstrual poverty and found that access to commodities was not the only problem; there was also a lot of shame around the rules.
This gave rise to several initiatives. One was a Bloody Big Brunch, held on campus, in which hundreds of students purchased a Bloody Mary and paid for it with period merchandise which was then donated to women in need.
The students designed vintage product dispensers which they called “menstruation stations” which were placed in highly visible positions on campus. Such units have now been installed in schools, colleges and universities across Scotland.
Television students on the module created without bleeding, a documentary that follows the group’s progress and a visit they made to Uganda to meet with organizations promoting gender equality and menstrual health.
For Cochrane, eliminating the shame around rules is linked to greater gender equality. She said, “I’ve been a feminist my whole life and I feel like we missed it… but the bottom line is that women’s health is not getting the proper funding it needs.
“Something like one in three women is debilitating [period] pain, which you would have thought if that was part of normal speech, maybe we would have done something about it already. “
Research Supervisor of the Year
After supervising dozens of agricultural engineering doctoral students, one would have expected Richard Godwin to retire smoothly. But since leaving Cranfield University in 2007, the internationally renowned soil dynamics expert has continued to devote his time to supporting and mentoring doctoral students, supervising researchers from Botswana to Bangladesh as a professor. guest at Harper Adams University.
“I was an international student in Illinois myself, which motivated my interest in helping these students,” said Prof Godwin, who is currently helping a Kenyan student secure funding for a doctorate. “My field is also very international – there are, in fact, better job opportunities abroad than in Britain because we have to feed the world and we are not going to do it from the shores of Britain. “, he added.
His former doctoral students recently logged on to an online party to celebrate Professor Godwin’s victory at the THE award, and several of them expressed appreciation for his post-doctoral mentorship.
“It’s not something I set out to do on purpose, but that’s how I was born in Illinois,” he said.
Many students also appreciate his willingness to take on challenges, even after a lifetime of awards and highly cited articles.
Professor Godwin intends to step back from his supervisory duties, but can still get his hands dirty in the field (literally), if necessary: ”It is sometimes said that I can both do advanced calculations and dig. holes, and everything in between. – I’ll see what happens next, and I’ll leave it to Serendipity.
Exceptional marketing / communications team
With Oxford University researchers playing a vital role in the battle against Covid, its public affairs department has implemented a global communications strategy to demonstrate this role to people around the world and to expand knowledge.
This helped ensure that during the pandemic, Oxford had an impact on policy, from rolling out the vaccine to wearing face coverings, with the public affairs team also supporting a fundraiser that raised money. over £ 187million for critical projects.
The communications strategy aimed to make Oxford “a go-to source of information for our communities, the media, policy makers, research funders and philanthropists,” said Alexander Buxton, head of strategic communications at university. “This was delivered while providing 24/7 support to our scientists on breach and reputation issues and, for the most part, working remotely. “
It meant a collaborative effort between researchers, communication professionals, public engagement experts, science communicators, and people with digital skills.
“Together, we have worked on the guiding principles of accuracy, timing and transparency, with a great deal of creativity,” said M.’s people-centered approach to scientific storytelling, combating misinformation in various forms. “
The team is “extremely grateful for this recognition of the teamwork and dedication that the pandemic has catalyzed in our internal and external, creative, digital, events and public affairs communication teams,” he added.