AFR Higher Education Awards

Seven universities were honoured for the quality of their services to students and the community in the inaugural The Australian Financial Review Higher Education awards.

Initiatives to get more disadvantaged students into university and into jobs, improve English language standards among students, and a project to improve health in indigenous communities were among the winners.

The industry engagement award was won by Swinburne University of Technology for collaborating with the construction industry to improve structural fasteners to improve safety and cost efficiency.

And the University of Southern Queensland won the learning experience award for its innovative project to deliver online education in prisons where there is no internet access.

Retiring chief scientist Ian Chubb was named the 2015 lifetime achiever in higher education for his long contribution to universities and dissemination of scientific knowledge.

Community Engagement

Winner: University of Sydney - Poche Centre for Indigenous health, healthy teeth strategy.

Brings together the resources and skills of universities, communities, government and philanthropy to address oral health problems in eight Aboriginal communities. More than 10,000 services have been provided, and Aboriginal people have been trained and have jobs as dental assistants.

Judges comments:
"This is a stunning example of innovative, practical and effective community engagement. The Poche Centre is not only making a tremendous difference to oral health in its partner communities, it is building their long-term capacity and skills - and providing an invaluable rural/remote clinical experience for the participating students and graduates."


Queensland University of Technology: National Exceptional Teachers for Disadvantaged Schools Program.

A program to attract, prepare, support and facilitate employment of high-quality teachers for low socio-economic status schools with a unique modified curriculum that balances on-campus theory, practical exposure to high poverty, and facilitated employment.

Notre Dame University: Rural and Remote Health Placement Program.

A program which engages rural Australians in educating doctors, promotes medical students' understanding of the rural health needs and motivates graduates to work in rural areas.

Griffith University: Griffith Centre for Coastal Management.

A partnership with the City of Gold Coast that involves and empower the local community in coastal management (including school education and volunteer programs) and promotes commitment to a sustainable environment and city.

Equity and Opportunity

Winner: University of Western Australia - Aspire UWA.

An educational outreach program working with 52 schools in WA to inspire students from low socio-economic, Indigenous and regional backgrounds to access the lifelong benefits of higher education. Since 2009 it has engaged more than 40,000 students, teachers, and families in its activities.

Judges comments:
"In a strong field featuring many innovative and worthy initiatives, this entry stood out for the scale and extent of its impact. It has involved more than 40,000 students, teachers and families, and underpinned a significant increase in low-SES enrolments in the last 6 years. We commend the University of Western Australia for walking the walk when it comes to equity and opportunity."


Macquarie University: LEAP Macquarie Mentoring (Refugee Mentoring).

This program supports students from refugee backgrounds to succeed in Australian higher education, playing a pivotal role in the resettlement and social inclusion of this disadvantaged group in their new homeland, which in turn has a demonstrated economic impact.

Federation University Australia: Student Futures Program.

A comprehensive program to support students with a suite of initiatives that prepares them, supports them, and helps them succeed in higher education at a university which has large numbers of non-traditional and underprivileged students. It is student-led and highly cost-effective.

Charles Sturt: CSU Pathway Program.

The program, run in partnership with TAFE across five sites and two states, aims to increase the proportion of low socio-economic status students entering higher education. It also provides opportunity for regional students, who are under represented in higher education.


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Winner: University of Wollongong - UoW employability strategy.

A whole of institution strategy to help meet the aspirations of students in degrees who do not usually have access to work-integrated learning. It focuses on types of students who face barriers in finding employment.

Judges comments:
"The University of Wollongong's employability strategy has impressive integration across the university, reflecting a real commitment to improving the employment prospects of their students. They have provided compelling evidence of high value for investment and, most importantly, clear positive impact on employment outcomes."


RMIT University: Global internship program.

RMIT students gain industry experience with major global corporations, acquiring the attributes necessary for employment in a globalising economy. In 2014-15, industry partners gave $2.8 million in living allowances for 175 students doing internships.

Bond University: Improving national higher education graduate employability through engaging with students, graduates, educators and employers.

A major project investigating ways to improve graduate employment outcomes.

Deakin University: DeakinSync for students.

All Deakin domestic and international students can create, curate and share digital evidence of achievement of employability outcomes through this adaptive, personalised digital learning environment.

Facilities Innovation

Winner: Queensland University of Technology - Science and Engineering Centre.

An integrated precinct with retail, recreation, student services, education, research and community engagement - as well as education and research - which follows sustainable building practices. It houses The Cube, an interactive digital learning environment.

Judges comments:
"Queensland University of Technology’s Science and Engineering Centre is all you could wish for in a twenty-first century university building. Its innovative, flexible design actively supports interactive learning and research, increases space efficiency, and, with its 5-star green rating, is a model for sustainable building practices."


University of Queensland: Advanced Engineering Building.

Delivers practical, active-learning styles for engineering students, and maximises global research opportunities. The building has sustainable features which reduce energy consumption and new learning spaces enabling a flipped-classroom approach for 1200 first-year engineering students.

University of Technology, Sydney: Faculty of Engineering and IT Building.

A building of striking form and sophisticated construction which facilitates a new approach to learning at UTS while strengthening research outcomes, industry collaboration and the vibrancy of the campus.

University of South Australia: Jeffrey Smart Building.

An award-winning student building that delivers a work and study environment that stimulates innovation and pioneers new modes of learning.

Industry Engagement

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Winner: Swinburne University of Technology - Transforming Australia's anchor and fastener industry.

A collaborative initiative with industry is transforming the selection, design and installation of structural anchors and fasteners in the Australian construction industry, enhancing safety during construction and under 'extreme events' while increasing cost-effectiveness.

Judges comments:
"Concrete fasteners might not be the most glamorous topic, but AEFAC is a model of targeted, effective engagement with industry that is not only delivering tremendous practical gains, but also saving lives by improving safety standards. The number of activities undertaken, the pace of growth, the extent of collaboration between competitors, and the far-reaching implications for industry make this entry a stand-out."


University of Western Australia: Energy and Minerals Institute.

Through the Institute's extensive engagement with the state's mining and oil and gas sectors, industry has been provided with research expertise, technology solutions and skilled graduates, and the university has benefited from significant investment from major resource companies.

Central Queensland University: Strengthening rail safety through national collaborative engagement.

The project used innovative methods to deal with the more than 1000 instances each year when trains inadvertently pass a stop signal. It led to the first international guideline for dealing with this risk, reducing operating costs while increasing safety for operators and passengers alike.

University of Southern Queensland: Delivering ecoBiz through an Industry-Government-University Partnership

This program, which helps small-medium enterprises develop eco-efficiency strategies, is a partnership between USQ, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland, the Queensland government and Australian Business Training Solutions.

International Education

Winner: Griffith University - Griffith English language enhancement strategy.

A sustained, whole-of-institution, evidence-based approach to English language development, designed for students with English as an additional language. The first of its kind in Australia, it comprises six programs organised across the student life cycle to maximise academic success.

Judges comments:
"This exceptional entry could have won across a number of categories - it a truly integrated approach, with outstanding impact in terms of student engagement, satisfaction, retention, language proficiency, and overall academic achievement. This sort of approach should be adopted everywhere - and it could do much to address language shortcomings amongst native English speakers too."


University of Melbourne: Melbourne School of Design Travelling Studios.

A student mobility program which exposes students from different design disciplines to diverse environments, cultures and real-life design challenges, it shapes the next generation of architects, landscape architects and urban planners. It has established numerous partnerships with overseas universities.

Torrens University: International Institution Partnership Program.

The program gives students a global perspective and maximises their employment and career progression opportunities. It includes giving all undergraduate students a 12-week trimester of study in Malaysia, with the cost included in their course fees.

UNSW Australia: Global Business Practicum.

Provides undergraduate students with a work-integrated-learning opportunity in Asia. Students in small consulting teams work on real projects for host companies in Jakarta, Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Shanghai. The course includes cultural preparation and in-country classes on local business, language and culture.

Learning Experience

Winner: University of Southern Queensland - Making the connection: Improving the higher education learning experience for incarcerated students.

USQ delivers higher education in eight prisons, creating a learning culture in these institutions. Prisoners are barred from internet access so it has modified its learning management system to operate without internet access.

Judges comments:
"The University of Southern Queensland has cleverly redesigned the delivery of their courses to ensure that the learning experience for prisoners is not compromised by lack of internet access. Their creative, practical approach not only meets a significant social need, it is also a powerful example of personalised learning in practice."


UNSW Australia, University of Queensland, University of Melbourne and James Cook University: The Biomedical Education Skills and Training (BEST) Network.

A rapidly-growing, collaborative project using digital technology to share knowledge, expertise and courseware in biomedical education. It reduces cost and duplication and enables content creation on the Smart Sparrow adaptive e-learning platform.

Marcus Oldham College: Integrating diverse workplace experience into curriculum.

The college integrates practical experience into its Bachelor of Business (Agriculture), including industry placements and paid employment in the fourth year of the course, leading to a high student satisfaction score in the University Experience Survey.

University of Technology, Sydney: Learning.Futures: The UTS strategy for university-scale learning transformation.

A whole of university approach to developing and implementing innovative learning design, which includes new buildings, learning spaces and learning models which embody problem-based thinking.

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