Published on 08/09/2021
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THE University of the Year
  • Aston University has been recognised for adapting positively to the coronavirus pandemic by focusing on its core beneficiaries
  • The University partnered with local organisations to provide a food distribution service to get vital supplies to communities in need
  • The Aston Means Business podcast series switched its focus to how SMEs were dealing with the pandemic, with advice from top experts as part of a special series

Aston University has been shortlisted for the University of the Year in the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2021.

The prestigious annual awards recognise outstanding work and exceptional performance across the higher education sector.

Aston University has been recognised for adapting positively to the coronavirus pandemic during which it continued to focus on its core beneficiaries: namely students, external organisations and the West Midlands region and wider society.

Examples of this beneficiary-led approach include:

Reimagining placements to meet the needs of employers and giving students valuable experience by providing fast-track support to job match students and make them placement ready, with the creation of new initiatives including combining multiple placement activities, remote and virtual placements, shorter placements as well volunteering and community engagement.

Working alongside The Active Wellbeing Society, The Real Junk Food Project, FareShare and Birmingham City Council, the University offered space in its students’ union building to provide an expanded food distribution service providing vital supplies to communities in need across Birmingham.

Commissioning a special series of its Aston Means Business podcasts, focused on real life examples of how SMEs were dealing with the pandemic and offering insight, analysis and advice from Aston Business School’s academic experts.

The University was also involved in the Government’s Small Business Leadership Programme, which informed the development of the Chancellor of Exchequer’s flagship Help to Grow: Management initiative. Rishi Sunak launched the scheme from Aston Business School in August 2021.

John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education, said:

“This year’s awards reflect a period of turmoil and innovation necessitated by the pandemic, yet the record number of entries is a sign of the brilliance of universities across the whole of the UK and Ireland.

“With almost 600 institutions, teams and individuals nominated, it really is a fantastic achievement to make it on to this year’s shortlists.

“We look forward to celebrating the incredible response of university staff in exceptionally tough circumstances when we gather for the ‘Oscars of higher education’ in November.”

Professor Alec Cameron, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, said:

“I am proud that Aston University has been shortlisted in the University of the Year category at the THE Awards.

“Our strategy was already beneficiary-led, but the COVID-19 pandemic provided an added impetus to rethink what we do and how we could use our resources effectively to support our beneficiaries.

“We were imaginative in how we provided placements and internships to make sure our students did not miss out on gaining vital work experience following the lockdown, whilst ensuring that employers’ needs were met.

“Our support for local small and medium sized businesses became a model for leadership and management training nationally.

“We also supported the region by partnering with local community organisations to offer an expanded food bank service for vulnerable people in the city.”

Saskia Loer Hansen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Engagement at Aston University, said:

“This nomination is testament to our strategy and how it differs from most universities, which are defined around their principal activities: usually research, education, and engagement.

“Instead, we have structured our strategy around our beneficiaries - the parties external to the university whom we exist to serve.

“We have categorised our beneficiaries into students, external organisations - such as businesses, public entities, not-for-profit sector and the professions - and our region and society.

“Our commitment to our beneficiaries has been demonstrated through our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is reflected in both graduate employability and graduate earning potential.”

Joe Fearn, owner of CircusMASH, took part in the Aston Means Business podcast series:

“Our relationship with Aston University started in 2018 when I took part in the Small Business Growth programme, which was absolutely vital in preparing us for what was to come in 2020 and how to adapt during the crisis.

“We received so much help from the University through the pandemic from one-to-one support to innovation vouchers and the podcast gave entrepreneurs like me a voice and helped me feel more connected to other business owners going through the same thing.”

Aston University has been shortlisted alongside five other universities: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Sunderland, Cardiff Metropolitan University, The Open University and University of York.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on the evening of 25 November 2021 in central London.

Notes to Editors

About the Times Higher Education Awards 2021

These are the 17th annual THE Awards.

There are 20 categories in total, covering a wide range of university activity across leadership and management, administration, and academia. 18 of these required submissions from institutions, one uses data collected for THE’s suite of rankings to tell a new story about university performance, and THE announce the latest recipient of the prestigious THE Outstanding Achievement Award. 

The THE Awards are widely known as the "Oscars of higher education".

This year’s ceremony will take place on the evening of 25 November 2021 in central London.

This is the first year that Irish institutions were eligible to enter. 

These awards focus primarily on activity during the 2019-20 academic year, and so include a large number of submissions based on the outstanding initial response of all THE’s institutions to the unique and wide-ranging challenges brought by the Covid pandemic. Inspirational stories abound, and this is undoubtedly a significant factor in the THE Awards breaking all previous entry records – nearly 600 institutions, teams or individuals were nominated in total.

If tweeting about your shortlisting, please use the hashtag #THEAwards.

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Sam Cook, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44)7446 910063 or email:

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