Sheffield Hallam University lifted the Outstanding Entrepreneurial University trophy at the seventeenth annual Times Higher Education (THE) Awards, widely referred to as the ‘Oscars of higher education’.

The University’s sustained investment has seen entrepreneurship and employability principles embedded throughout the whole organisation, including its teaching, regional partnerships and research programmes.

Key initiatives include:

  • A Highly Skilled Employment project that has ensured all 350 undergraduate courses include work experience or work placements at every level, so that every Sheffield Hallam student benefits from real-world work-based learning.
  • The largest free student consultancy service in the UK, which sees students offering their skills to support local businesses and community groups on a range of projects. Activity increased by 32 per cent last year and has contributed nearly £5m to the local economy over last seven years
  • Supporting the Class of 2020 graduates, including offering virtual interviews, internship opportunities and start-up support, which helped every graduate navigate a highly disrupted jobs market.

The approach was further enhanced during the Covid-19 pandemic as the institution pivoted its business offer to support the local economy and communities most in need. The strategy focused on positioning Sheffield Hallam as a driver of economic growth through raising productivity; narrowing skills gaps; supporting business, innovation and enterprise; and attracting investment.

Overall, the university delivered £18m of funded business support projects in 2019‑20.

Sheffield Hallam saw off competition from the likes of University of Edinburgh and Oxford Brookes University to win the award.

Professor Kevin Kerrigan, pro vice-chancellor for business and enterprise at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “We’re thrilled to be recognised as Entrepreneurial University of the Year. This is a culmination of years of hard work from fantastic colleagues across Sheffield Hallam. We’ve taken a whole-university approach to embedding entrepreneurial and employability principles within the curriculum, our partnerships, and research programmes. We're committed to supporting our students and graduates to thrive.”

A new professional diploma has also been created to enable every sandwich placement student to achieve an additional qualification, while employer advisory boards were established in all 17 academic departments to work with industry partners on future-proofing the curriculum, securing work experience and enriching learning.

Meanwhile, Hallam i-Lab, a 150-business incubator for students and graduates, counted 2,730 student enterprise interactions in 2019‑20, including 133 workshops, 485 one-to-one appointments and 56 new trading businesses.

The judges praised the university for its “comprehensive approach” to embedding entrepreneurship.

“Sheffield Hallam demonstrated how it had pivoted from a series of initiatives to a strategic approach that impacted every part of the university,” they said.

The THE Awards are the biggest celebration in the HE calendar, attracting hundreds of entries from individuals, teams and institutions from all corners of the UK and, for the first time this year, Ireland too. Nearly a thousand people gathered at the Hilton London Metropole hotel to celebrate the sector’s recent achievements, not least its outstanding response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

John Gill, THE editor, said: “The Times Higher Education Awards have been recognising outstanding achievements in UK higher education for the best part of two decades, but never before have they shone a light on the level of effort and creativity that was demanded of universities throughout the 2019-20 academic year.

“The response required, and delivered, in the face of a global pandemic was unique, and many of the awards submissions reflected those unprecedented circumstances. But universities’ great strength is not just that they respond to circumstances, but that they also provide a level of constancy at times of uncertainty and change. 2019-20 was not just a year of pandemic disruption, it was also a year in which incredible achievements were made in all the areas you would hope and expect: world-changing research, brilliant learning and teaching, international and industrial engagement, and the full gamut of activities that run through universities like words through a stick of rock.”