University of Chester sweeps the board at Educate North awards.

Posted on 26th April 2016

The University of Chester is celebrating after scooping four of the 13 university categories at the prestigious Educate North awards ceremony, held in Manchester, including an accolade for its Vice-Chancellor.

(L to R) Professor Deborah Eyre, Director, High Performance Learning, with the Rev Dr Lesley Cooke, Dean of Students at the University of Chester.
(L to R) Professor Deborah Eyre, Director, High Performance Learning, with the Rev Dr Lesley Cooke, Dean of Students at the University of Chester.

The awards, now in their second year, celebrate the outstanding teams, people and initiatives from higher and further education institutions across the north of England.

The University won in a range of categories, with the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tim Wheeler, picking up the University Leadership award. For the second year running, the University’s Sustainability Unit was recognised, picking up the Environmental Sustainability award in a category where the winner was announced on the night. Thornton Science Park was recognised in the Innovation category, and the institution’s Student Support and Guidance (SSG) team won the Student Experience Award for its Young Carers Support Scheme.  Chester was also one of only five institutions to be shortlisted in the University of the Year category.

One of the University’s graduates was also successful. Alumnus Dean Paton won the University Entrepreneur Award, with his Chester-based company Big Heritage, an award winning heritage social enterprise engaging museums, schools and communities with the past.

Professor Tim Wheeler joined the then Chester College of Higher Education as Principal in 1998, and has enjoyed a career which has included lectureships in Psychology and Communications; Dean of Faculty; Professorships across Scotland, Ireland and England; and he was Acting Director and Chief Executive of Southampton Institute of Higher Education. He has published over 120 articles, books and research reports, has been Senior Visiting Research Scholar at St John’s College, Oxford, and still finds time to supervise doctoral research students in his current role as Vice-Chancellor.

Under Professor Wheeler’s leadership, the institution has been transformed from a well-regarded College of Higher Education to one of the most popular institutions in the North West, and has recently celebrated being ranked, by its own students, as within the top 30 in the country, in two separate polls. As a university, the institution has more than quadrupled its student numbers, and spread from one campus to six. Key milestones at Chester have included:

  • Being granted University status by HM Privy Council in 2005;
  • Research degree awarding powers in 2007;
  • Continuous ‘outstanding’ grades from Ofsted since 2010;
  • Establishing a new campus at Warrington in 2002;
  • The acquisition of the Thornton Science Park from Shell in 2013;
  • The launch of  University Centre Shrewsbury in 2014;
  • A new £10 million campus at Queen’s Park, formerly Western Command HQ, being opened for the Faculty of Business and Management and the Chester Business School from 2015.

Last year, the University celebrated its 175th Anniversary, from its roots as the first purpose-built teacher training college in the UK, to today’s diverse, multi-site organisation. The institution also recently published its Economic Impact Assessment, which showed the University’s value to the UK economy as £386 million pounds per year.

Welcoming the news, Professor Tim Wheeler, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Chester, said: “I am extremely proud to receive this award, and to be recognised by my peers is always an honour. I also see this as recognition of the hard work of all its staff in ensuring the success of the University of Chester, which has gone from strength to strength since it was established over 175 years ago. We pride ourselves on the quality of our student experience and our success at these awards once again proves the value of the support we offer as an institution.”

The University’s SSG team is celebrating its win in the Student Experience Award, for its innovative Young Adult Carers scheme, which is a distinctive support package offered to students who also have caring responsibilities.  Chester was also shortlisted in the same category for its CHANGES (Challenging Hazing and Negative Group Events in Sport) intervention workshop.  The first programme of its kind to be developed and implemented in higher education, it has been designed to raise awareness, challenge current practice and educate sporting societies about the dangers of initiation activities.  It was led by Dr Moira Lafferty, Deputy Head of the Department of Psychology.

Welcoming the award, the Rev Dr Lesley Cooke, Dean of Students, said: “The SSG team works extremely hard, so it is thrilling once again to have that recognised, and for the institution to be nominated twice in the same category is an exceptional achievement.

“The University values all of our students, and we want to ensure that our young adult carers get the support that they deserve to complete their studies. We offer a range of internal assistance – financial; academic; relevant, flexible work experience and also career support.  We also work externally with local care providers to provide tailored carer support too.  The desire from care providers on Wirral, in Warrington, Liverpool, Salford and Shrewsbury to enter into partnerships with the University, through this scheme, demonstrates the efficacy of this programme, of which we are very proud.”

The Innovation Award went to Thornton Science Park, which has significantly raised the profile of the institution in the region since it was acquired from Shell three years ago.  The University took the opportunity to establish a brand new Faculty of Science and Engineering on site, which allowed the chance to develop a unique model there (blending industry, innovation and academia), embedding a culture of sustainable innovation.  Thornton is a major contributor to the University’s economic impact and has been recognised as exciting and exemplary on a national stage by both the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and the Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson.

Paul Vernon, CEO of Thornton Science Park and Senior Executive Director of Commercial Operations for the University of Chester, said: “I’m extremely pleased that Thornton’s innovation has been recognised at these awards.  Thornton is going from strength to strength and we have carried out significant developments to the site, ensuring that business and academic worlds are interlinked. Any companies based at Thornton have an alignment with the newly formed Faculty of Science and Engineering, and are able to take advantage of the fantastic facilities we have on offer.”

Over the course of 12 months, a team of just two people has overseen three major sustainability projects at the University, including the installation of state-of-the-art solar panels on eight of its buildings. This has led to a reduction in the institution’s carbon footprint of 152 tonnes of CO2, and generated 1% of the University’s total electric requirements.  A Strategic Energy Partnership for the Thornton Science Park has also been launched, with the aim of dramatically cutting energy, carbon and cost.

Head of Sustainability at the University, Alice Elliott, said: “It is absolutely wonderful to be recognised for our environmental sustainability – and to receive the award in two consecutive years is particularly pleasing! This recognition proves that the issue of sustainability remains high on the University of Chester’s agenda.  We are only a small team – but this award proves that by working in collaboration with colleagues and external partners, it is more than possible to win hearts and minds and to achieve huge energy savings.”