Glasgow University is celebrating after it scooped the top prize in this year’s Herald Higher Education Awards (HHEA).

It was among a host of winners honoured during a special online ceremony held last night.

The university, Scotland’s second oldest, has been named Higher Education Institution of the Year in recognition of trailblazing projects such as the Lighthouse Lab, which was part of the nation’s fightback against Covid-19.

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This year’s judges were: Jon Baldwin, Managing Director of Higher Education at the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc); Mhairi Harrington OBE, a former principal of West Lothian College who is on the board at the Scottish Funding Council (SFC); Dr Ilona Roth, an honorary associate at the Open University’s School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences; James Dunphy, SFC Director of Access, Learning and Outcomes; and Roy Gardner, Vice-Principal for Corporate Development & Innovation at City of Glasgow College (CGC).

They were deeply impressed by the critical support role that Glasgow University took on during the pandemic, particularly its efforts to boost employment across the city at a time of great uncertainty.

It has also provided vital assistance to graduates and those interested in gaining a foothold in the life sciences at the start their careers.

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The university is no stranger to HHEA glory. In 2019, it triumphed in our widening access category for a programme that allows successful participants to progress to year one in medicine.

This year’s awards – which were held online due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19 – saw institutions up and the down the country recognised for their work to support education during a period of unprecedented turmoil.

Among the winners was New College Lanarkshire, whose business hub finished first in our Outstanding Business Engagement in Colleges category.

Another victor, this time on the east coast, was St Andrews University, Scotland’s oldest higher education institution, which won the Enhancing Student Learning award for its Vertically Integrated Projects scheme.

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The initiative enables people from any level of study and from different subject areas to participate in research that can earn them grades and credits.

Also celebrating is the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, already on a high after being named one of the top three institutions for performing arts education in the 2021 QS World Rankings. It took the Supporting Student Wellbeing prize.

Among the individuals honoured was John Frace at the University of the Highlands and Islands (Argyll College).

He won in the Outstanding Contribution from a University Student category for his Scotland/UK coronavirus tracker website, which was a big hit with our judges. Noting that the site was making a material difference to local communities, James Dunphy described it as an “excellent” project.

Professor John Harper, former principal of Robert Gordon University, took home the Lifetime Achievement Award for his huge contribution to higher education.

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He has repeatedly demonstrated his enthusiasm for change and new ideas over the years after holding roles that include senior lecturer and head of school.

“Very early on in my career I could see the impact higher education could have on people and I never lost my passion for seeing how it could transform lives,” said Prof Harper, who was born in Wick and attended Aberdeen University.

Donald Martin, editor of The Herald and Herald on Sunday, who chaired the judging panel, was effusive in his praise of this year’s winners.

“The pandemic and lockdown restrictions have meant this has been an incredibly difficult year for everyone involved in education,” he said.

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“But it has also provided opportunities for innovation, creativity, and inspiration.

“In this, our sixth year, we received around 100 entries. Even more impressive was the quality of entry across all categories.

"Choosing that shortlist and the winners has not been easy and I would like to give special thanks to our amazing judges for the time they took diligently assessing each of the entries and ensuring that this was a fair and robust process.”