Nottingham Trent wins inaugural Guardian university of the year award

Nottingham Trent wins inaugural Guardian university of the year award

Nottingham Trent University has been crowned university of the year in the Guardian’s annual awards for its inclusive curriculum and focus on social mobility.

The award, which was introduced this year, is calculated on the basis of several measures, including performance and improvement in the Guardian league tables. These focus on the university activities that matter most to young people: quality of teaching, student satisfaction and employability.

Last year, Nottingham Trent overtook its elite Russell Group rival, Nottingham University, in the Guardian’s university league tables for the first time. The former polytechnic, which has 30,000 students across four campuses in the city and surrounding countryside, was among the highest risers in the rankings.

The Guardian award factors in how good universities are at retaining students who come from areas of low participation in higher education, and whether their black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students do as well as their white peers. Bonus points are awarded for race charter awards; Athena Swan awards, which reflect gender balance; and Stonewall’s ranking of good practice on LGBT issues.

Prof Edward Peck, vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, said social mobility is a priority since a quarter of the student body is from households with a combined income of £15,000 or less. The university was the first tosign up to the government’s new social mobility pledge, which commits it to working with schools and employers to improve life chances for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We’ve been very determined to reduce some of the attainment gaps for some of our students, and in particular to narrow the gaps between those who get graduate level jobs and those who don’t,” Peck said.

As part of this drive, the university monitors academic progress closely using a state-of-the-art learning analytics system, which measures how often students use the library or log into the virtual learning environment. The university has also made work experience mandatory for all degree courses, and has updated all its courses to ensure they lead clearly towards a career.

The update formed part of a wider 18-month process of curriculum overhaul across the university. This started with staff driving a double-decker bus around campus, to which academics were invited on board to discuss how they could modernise their curriculums to improve employability, diversify reading lists beyond white European thinkers, and reflect the UN’ssustainable development goals.

“It brought the whole process to life,” said Eunice Simmons, deputy vice-chancellor. “It’s made a big difference in a lot of our courses.”

Diversity is another priority for Nottingham Trent given that one third of its student body is BAME, and the university is working hard to reduce the disparity in grades with white students.

One of the innovations which has enabled this is a team-based learning project called Scale-Up, which won the Guardian award for course and curriculum design. The project was rolled out among 16,000 students, and the university’s initial findings show that the approach has narrowed the gap between how well white and BAME students do by 4.2 percentage points.

The university sees itself as a “social enterprise” with a focus on working with the local community, according to Peck. Lots of projects are targeted at disadvantaged residents given that the city ranks among the poorest in the UK.

The university runs the award-winning Safer Living Foundation, a rehabilitation project for sexual offenders which is underpinned by the university’s research, and a legal advice centre, through which students have helped local residents claim £3m worth of benefits they had been denied.

“It was a need in the city. It speaks to social inclusion, it develops student skills and experience, but it actually makes a real difference to people’s lives,” Peck said.

Category winners

Advancing staff equality

Winner: University of South Wales
Runners up: University of Essex, University of Strathclyde

Business collaboration

Winner: Heriot-Watt University
Runners up: University of Leicester, Salford University

Course and curriculum design

Winner: Nottingham Trent University
Runners up: Brunel University London, University of Huddersfield

Digital innovation

Winner: London School of Economics
Runners up: Coventry University, Staffordshire University

Employability and entrepreneurship

Winner: Norwich University of the Arts
Runners up: Leeds College of Music, University of Central Lancashire

Internationalisation

Winner: University of Worcester
Runners up: UWE Bristol (International Water Security Network), UWE Bristol(Project Zulu)

Marketing and comms campaigns

Winner: University of London
Runners up: University of Bath, University of Sheffield

Research impact

Winner: University of Manchester
Runners up: Heriot-Watt University, University of Exeter

Retention, support and student outcomes

Winner: UWE Bristol
Runners up: Sheffield Hallam University, University of Glasgow

Social and community impact
Supported by Wonkhe

Winner: Kings College London
Runner up: Imperial College London

Student experience
Supported by Jisc

Winner: Newcastle University
Runners up: University of Westminster, York St John University

Sustainable buildings that inspire

Winner: University of the West of Scotland
Runners up: Huddersfield University, Swansea University

Teaching excellence

Winner: Manchester Metropolitan University
Runners up: Edge Hill University, UWE Bristol

Widening access and outreach

Winner: The Open University
Runners up: University of Strathclyde, University of Worcester

Guardian

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