2021 Awards

2020-21 has been an extraordinary year, one like no other with the COVID-19 pandemic having a dramatic and traumatic effect on institutions, learning experiences, quality systems, students’ associations, and individual students and staff. Student engagement work, like our sector as a whole, adapted quickly and robustly to ensure that partnership remains at the heart of our sector and continues to be responsive to the diversity of the student population, the changing nature of the student learning experience, and the many growing implications for mental health, digital poverty and other facets of education. Given this rapid and continuing change, student engagement in shaping the quality of the learning experience at all levels has never been more important.

Amidst all the difficulties, however, there have been tremendous successes as partnership between staff and students has been maintained and even strengthened in so many areas. At a time when sparqs’ bi-annual conference and awards would traditionally take place, a showpiece event of international repute that we have reluctantly not held due to the pandemic, it is still important to recognise and celebrate this year’s successful partnerships.

To highlight these achievements, therefore, sparqs is proud to announce its 2021 Awards. Open to all in our universities and colleges in Scotland, the awards aim to showcase and celebrate some of the heroic and admirable ways in which staff and students have worked together to protect and enhance the learning experience in the most challenging of circumstances.

We therefore invite nominations for these awards, culminating in a report and celebratory online event on Tuesday 22nd June!


We welcome nominations for awards from staff and students who can demonstrate successful and impactful partnership working on the quality of the learning experience, across three categories in both universities and colleges in the academic year 2020-21.

Please read the outlines below and use the downloads to submit your nominations.

A student-led initiative

This category is for activity led by students, including student representatives at course, programme or department level, students involved in enhancement projects, or any individual student or student group who have contributed to the quality of the learning experience. Such activities might include work by course reps to gather and use student views, initiation of partnership work with staff, successful proposal of adjustments to the learning experience, work to engage specific groups impacted by the pandemic, or the work of student-led groups or societies that have impacted on the quality of learning within a course or department.

A students’ association-led initiative

This category is for projects, services or systems led by students’ associations, including at a strategic or institution-wide level and in partnership with university management. This might mean successful students’ association campaigns, projects or services that help those whose engagement has been most at risk, ideas and proposals that have had impact on students engaging in their learning, students’ association engagement with wider decision-making and pandemic responses, or support to systems of academic representation.

A partnership initiative

This category is for work undertaken together by staff and students, where from idea to implementation the process has been jointly led. Initiatives could be within a course or department, where students, reps, staff and managers have collaborated on enhancements to the quality of the learning experience, or might be projects undertaken by staff and students at an institutional or even national level relating to strategic or policy matters that have impacted on the learning experience or engaged students especially impacted by the pandemic.


Submissions will be assessed by our panel of experts drawn from across the sector, against three criteria:

  1. Evidence of partnership – Even where initiated or led by one person or team, how did this example involve others as partners in developing it?
  2. Evidence of impact – How has this led to change in structures or cultures of engagement in quality, or directly in the student learning experience?
  3. Evidence of sustainability – How could this be continued, or inform future practice in the same institution or elsewhere?

The deadline for submissions is Monday 31st May at 9am.


Work is already underway on a report from sparqs that showcases effective partnership in quality across our sector this year. Publication of this report will now align with our awards, and will be launched at our awards ceremony on Tuesday 22nd June 2021.

The report will highlight the importance of partnership in how our institutions and students’ associations can respond to the challenges of the current era, celebrate examples of practice and will feature examples from the awards nominations and our ongoing engagement with the sector.

All submissions to the awards will also be considered for inclusion within our report, but we continue to welcome submissions to the report outside the awards process by Monday 31st May at 9am, the same deadline as for awards submissions.

This report will then stand as a testament to the tremendous work staff and students have undertaken in 2020-21 across our institutions, students’ associations and agencies to ensure that partnership remains at the heart of Scotland’s sector as we face the challenges and opportunities ahead.


We are delighted to announce that there will be a short awards ceremony online on Tuesday 22nd June between 5.00pm and 6.30pm, hosted by the Chair of sparqs’ Trustees, Sir Andrew Cubie.

This event will be an opportunity to celebrate the successes of the sector’s partnership working during this turbulent year, launch our report, and of course announce the winners in our six award categories.

The awards ceremony is open for registrations - see the event page to book your place to join us on June 22nd.  

If you have any questions about our awards, please contact Simon Varwell, Senior Development Consultant, on simon.varwell@sparqs.ac.uk or 07815 938966.

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