Strathclyde widening access programme wins national award

Left to right: Lianne Williams, Head of Performance with ENABLE Works; Heather Stenhouse, Assistant Faculty Manager of Strathclyde Business School and Strategic Lead for Breaking Barriers; Dr Konstantinos Tomazos, Senior Lecturer in Strathclyde’s Department of Work, Employment and Organisation and Academic Lead for Breaking Barriers; Sally Cameron, ScottishPower.

A University of Strathclyde-led programme, aimed at broadening higher education opportunities for people with disabilities, has won a Scotland-wide award.

The Breaking Barriers initiative, which helps young people with a learning disability gain university qualifications and work experience, was named winner in the Spotlight category of the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards.

The programme is currently in its third year,  with eight students in its first cohort, 15 in its second and 16 registered for this year's. It is run by Strathclyde Business School in partnership with ENABLE Scotland, ScottishPower and Marriott Hotels.

The awards are presented by Interface, which matches businesses with academics to develop and research new products, services and processes. The winners were announced at a ceremony in Edinburgh.

Heather Stenhouse, Assistant Faculty Manager of Strathclyde Business School and Strategic Lead for Breaking Barriers, said: “We are very proud to collaborate with our partners on such an innovative programme.

“Breaking Barriers makes a difference in the lives of young adults with learning difficulties, supporting them to undertake a university experience and gain real work experience with two of Scotland’s largest employers. They are also able to graduate at a fully inclusive ceremony at Strathclyde’s Barony Hall.

“Being able give support to these young adults is absolutely priceless.”

The Spotlight Award celebrates a partnership between a business sector and an academic discipline to provide an innovative solution to a challenge.

Dr Siobhán Jordan, Director of Interface, said: “I always really enjoy the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards which are now in their fifth year. Not only do we celebrate the achievements of the businesses we’ve helped match with academic expertise, this unique ceremony showcases the immense talent and expertise in colleges and universities working with industry, which enable sustainable and inclusive economic growth and job creation.

“The pioneering individuals and R&D partnerships recognised at the Awards have brought huge benefits and impacts which ripple locally, regionally and globally to truly drive industry-led innovation.”

Ivan McKee MSP, Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, presented the awards. He said: “I’d like to congratulate all the nominees and winners who have been recognised for their outstanding work at the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards.

“Not only do these awards celebrate activities and projects happening all over Scotland, they bring people together and create new collaborations and partnerships. Their innovation plays a crucial role in boosting productivity and creating sustainable economic growth for the country.”

Strathclyde had three other nominations in the awards. A collaboration between the Business School and CHAS (Children’s Hospices Across Scotland) was shortlisted in the Making A Difference category; this venture has developed an accessible and inclusive process of strategy-making based on the views of stakeholders, including children and young people. The outcome has resulted in CHAS being able to increase significantly its referrals and the number of families it supports.

There were also two Strathclyde nominations in the Innovator of the Future category. Lilia Potseluyko Amobi, a KTP Associate with the Department of Architecture, was shortlisted for work building on an initial Innovation Voucher-funded project with Caithness-based Norscot Joinery Ltd. This developed a ‘virtual showhome’ enabling clients to ‘walk through’ their design concept prior to build; the follow-on Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) has further transformed the business offering, developing new products, processes and solutions and enabling significant cost-savings to be achieved. An earlier project between Strathclyde and Norscot was named Innovation of the Year in the 2018 Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards.

Dr Declan Bryans, a KTP Associate with the Department of Pure & Applied Chemistry, was nominated for leading a successful collaborative project with Lanarkshire-based Mersen to push battery electrode materials beyond their current known limits. Through the KTP, the collaboration will better enable the development of highly efficient flow batteries on a global stage and support the move towards sustainable renewable energy use.

The Knowledge Exchange Awards win for Breaking Barriers follows its success at the 2019 Times Higher Education Awards, in which it was named Widening Participation or Outreach Initiative of the Year. Strathclyde was also named Times Higher Education UK University of the Year, becoming the first institution to win this award twice.