At Wonkfest18 hosted the second annual Wonkhe Awards – celebrating the best of the higher education community’s contributions to policy.

Here are this year’s winners and nominees.

Social media wonk of the year

presented by Global Academy Jobs



Jess Moody, Senior Policy Adviser, Advance HE

Jess’s work at Advance HE focuses on the equality aspects of social mobility and student diversity in higher education. It would be easy to direct that work just at equality and diversity units – but Jess uses social media to take the debate into the heart of classrooms and boardrooms right across the sector. And she also takes time to have views on other things that go on across the policy scene, marking her out as a key influencer in sector wonkery. Her posts are often compelling, usually hilarious, mostly thought-provoking – and often champion those under-represented in our sector.

Others shortlisted

Mike Ratcliffe, Academic Registrar, Nottingham Trent University

Mike’s savvy use of Twitter provides a compelling narrative on the twists and turns of higher education policy in the UK and its history. Combining analysis and historical observations, Mike manages to keep his community informed and those in power on their toes – all with an underpinning thread of belief in the value of HE.

Mary Curnock Cook, Former CEO, UCAS

Former Chief Executives of sector agencies often fade into obscurity, offering bits of consultancy and stories from the past. Not Mary. Her observations on higher education and interaction with the community mark her out as an important player in the contemporary debate, highlighting key stories and often unheard perspectives that spark something rare on social media – reasoned and intelligent debate.

Outstanding commentary on HE policy

presented by Shakespeare Martineau



Robin Middlehurst, former Professor of Higher Education at Kingston University.

Is there something rotten in this state of Denmark?

It’s always an absolute delight to publish Robin’s work and we are proud to have her as a contributing editor. This piece is beautifully structured, tying the low state of higher education in to wider trends and concepts from a stunning array of theoretical fields. When we set up our Long Read format we hoped it would offer space for detailed, flowing, and transformative articles like this one. At a moment of crisis of morale in higher education, Robin managed to say what so many were thinking. Just better.

Others shortlisted

Becca Bland, Chief Executive at Stand Alone Charity.

Graduating alone: family capital and student success 

Becca has written two hard-hitting articles for Wonkhe, championing the cause of some of our most vulnerable students, and identifying some specific policies and practices to change. She writes with flair and is always happy to debate her ideas which she has a relentless focus on promoting to further her campaign on behalf of the under-reported group that she represents.

Mike Grey, Head of University Partnerships at Gradconsult.

Has employability become a toxic brand?

Employability is one of those plastic words that is seldom defined or fully understood. Mike’s well written and enviably clear survey of the state of employability prompted a great deal of debate. And further proof, if proof were needed, that there are many people who have moved between the sector and the commercial world that have a lot of value to contribute.


Outstanding HE policy analysis

presented by OES



Kylie Cook, Project Consultant at Gradconsult

Generation P (for Perfection)

What makes a great article on Wonkhe? We think it’s a mixture of things – interesting arguments, clever use of data, and insights that can change the course of a debate. Kylie’s piece back in March did all this and more – taking the tired tropes about snowflakes and remixing them into an inspiring piece on arming young people with a coherent picture of the world of work, and the confidence to navigate it through coaching and mentoring.

Others shortlisted

Emily Nordmann, Lecturer in the School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen.

Capturing the lecture?

We have a very high bar for education technology articles – it can be easy to focus on the potential of the new without translating the wider cultural and social implication. Emily’s article – drawn from robust research first published as a preprint (a fact that prompted another superb article). Her powerful argument for transparency regarding the purpose and use of lecture recordings struck a chord with readers, and picked up on one of the more disquieting themes from responses to this year’s industrial action.

Mark Corver, founder of data HE and the former director of analysis and research at UCAS

The equality indicators are quietly flashing red

A lot of data swirls around the higher education sector – so we depend on those that can interrogate it to set the agenda for action. Mark’s piece at the close of the clearing period certainly did that – shining fresh light on UCAS data, correcting assumptions about social mobility progress and setting down policy challenges for regulators and providers in the process.

Wonk to watch 2018

presented by Interfolio



Vicky Olive, HEPI/TeachFirst

Vicky report for HEPI How much is too much? Cross-subsidies from teaching to research in British universities has been one of most interesting and influential reports to come out of HEPI in some time. Anything that shines a light on issues that sector leaders would rather not debate usually catches our eye, and cross-subsidies has for too long been on the list of of the “too awkward to mention” topics. It was ripe for serious study, has been debated at conferences and on blogs endlessly since, and particularly given the real lack of work in this area, can be certain to have been influential on the Augar review, which has been explicit that it’s looking at cross-subsidies in its thinking about future fee and funding systems.

Others shortlisted

Kay Steven, Policy Officer (Scotland) for Advance HE

Kay has inspired the Scottish HE and College sector to be more ambitious and use new approaches to tackling systemic gender inequality in student recruitment and participation. Navigating policy drivers like the Gender Action Plan, legislative powers (the Equality Act) and the specifics of the Scottish context (funding, geography, demographics) she’s brought a variety of institutions together towards a common goal under the ‘Attracting Diversity’ project. Not only that but she’s communicated those successes to the wider UK with her blogs, webinars, case studies and a ‘Festival of Learning’ in summer 2018.

Gedminte Mikulenaite, Policy Researcher, Universities UK

Student mental health has been a signature strategy issue for the sector over the past two years – so the task of knitting together useful and impactful work on this “wicked” policy problem has been urgent and much needed. Gedminte has been central to Universities UK’s work in this area, acting as the driving force behind the “Step Change” framework which has won serious plaudits for its breadth and depth.

Best use of data

presented by Hotcourses Group



Cath Sleeman and Jyldyz Djumalieva , NESTA

A good visualisation can highlight tensions and issues within a dataset, a great one can use interactivity and movement to draw in the reader – causing them to re-evaluate their own interpretation. Cath and Jyldyz’s work at Nesta has focused on skills and job descriptions, their stunning and clear interactive visualisations have been widely shared and have transformed our understanding of the current and future job market.

Wonk of the year

presented by HSBC



Anna Vignoles, Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge

Anna studies inequalities in education access and achievement and has published widely on widening participation into higher education and on the socioeconomic gap in pupil achievement. Her work is often controversial with Wonkhe’s audience, but her work – which uses large-scale data sets to study achievement and outcomes is compelling and demonstrates the value that data and metrics can bring to debates about the value and purpose of higher education.

Others shortlisted

Linda Tiller, Senior Research Manager, HEFCW

Linda has been with HEFCW since the very start, back in the days when the organisation actually could have fitted into a broom cupboard. She has single-handedly been an expert on REF, and the RAE before that, so good that David Sweeney will regularly admit to plagiarising her. It’s been said by those that nominated her that she IS Research Wales, and retires at the end of this year, much to the sadness of the Welsh HE sector.

Michael Otsuka, Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Logic & Scientific Method at the London School of Economics.

Pension schemes are complex beasts, with a large number of nested assumptions. So it takes a skilled philosopher to unpick the logic and follow the trails of meaning to their inherent contradictions. In Michael, USS actuaries found a formidable opponent, and it is no exaggeration to say his blog posts changed the course of the dispute.

Lifetime contribution to better higher education policy

presented by The Guardian


Gareth Parry, Emeritus Professor of Education University of Sheffield 

2017 winners

Most innovative intervention at a university, presented by Unite Students

The University of Central Lancashire – refuge for students whose university in the Caribbean had been severely damaged by hurricane Irma.

Best use of data to inform policy, presented by Hotcourses Group

HESA’s HECoS project.

Most important contribution to HE policy research, presented by Pearson

Gavan Conlon of London Economics.

Social media wonk of the year, presented by SMRS

Smita Jamdar, partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau.

Best piece of original analysis or argument on Wonkhe, presented by Communications Management

London South Bank’s Shân Wareing’s Letter to Sir Michael Barber.

Most important contribution to HE policy-making, presented by Shakespeare Martineau

The Lords Temporal and Spiritual scrutiny on the Higher Education and Research Act.

Wonk to watch 2017, presented by Minerva

Gerard Dominguez-Reig – major reports from the Education Policy Institute.

Wonk of the year 2017, presented by HSBC

Lucy Hunter Blackburn.