Staffordshire University’s role in levelling up the UK has been celebrated at a new set of awards.

The Levelling Up Universities Awards recognise those higher education institutions and their staff that are committed to boosting opportunity and being truly purpose-led. One of two Levelling Up Spotlight Awards was made to Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL for her commitment to, and leadership of, the levelling up agenda within higher education.

Professor Barnes said: “The number of people in Staffordshire who progress onto university is already significantly lower than the national average and so it is incredibly important to Staffordshire University that we do not let anyone slip through the gaps.

“As a University we work hard to make sure our transition process helps students overcome any anxiety they may be feeling about attending University and our work with the Students’ Union to promote student wellbeing is now a year-round priority.”

Staffordshire University was also recognised for ‘closing the digital divide’ at the Awards which were hosted by former Education Secretary Rt Hon Justine Greening and former Skills and Apprenticeship Minister Rt Hon Anne Milton.

Over the course of the pandemic, Staffordshire University’s Digital Services team made loan laptops available to students, handing out hundreds of computers since the first national lockdown.

Essential software was also made available to students with more than 2,100 Adobe licences supplied since July 2020, giving students home access to software that was traditionally accessed on campus. Students have also been given the opportunity to enhance their digital skills and employability through certified online training in Microsoft Office, Adobe, and AutoDesk software.

Andrew Proctor, Pro Vice-Chancellor – Digital added: “Students at Staffordshire University are disproportionally affected by digital poverty. About 47% of our student body come from disadvantaged backgrounds and more than 50% are mature learners.

“COVID-19 has had a real levelling-down effect on equality of opportunity in Britain, and the pandemic has shown very starkly how much the digital divide matters for learning. Some families have plenty of access to digital devices to learn on and plenty of data to access the internet, but many others do not.”

The Awards categories are based around the Levelling Up Goals launched earlier this year by Justine Greening.

Justine Greening said: “Following on from the success of the Levelling Up Awards earlier this year, we wanted to specifically focus on the amazing work being done in universities across the UK. It was great to see so many inspirational universities and leaders in the sector being celebrated at Levelling Up Universities Awards.

“Accelerated by the pandemic and the challenges that this has brought us, we are seeing a real shift in expectations of universities and their role as anchor institutions with communities.

“I’d like to say a huge congratulations to all our winners and thank them for leading the way on the levelling up agenda.”

Staffordshire University recently launched its Opportunity Action Plan, part of the Social Mobility Pledge initiative, which was led by Professor Barnes and aims to increase access to higher education and career opportunities locally.

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