The Queen's Anniversary Prizes

The University of Plymouth is a three-time winner of the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education

The highest national award that can be bestowed upon an educational institution, the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education is an integral part of the annual honours system, and is only awarded every two years to a handful of universities and colleges. 
The University of Plymouth has been honoured with a Queen’s Anniversary Prize on three occasions:
  • Environment and Conservation, Round 13 Prize-winner, 2019
    World-leading microplastics discovery work
  • Environment and Conservation, Round 9 Prize-winner, 2011
    Education and research solutions for the global marine sector
  • Education and Training, Round 1 Prize-winner, 1994
    Widening access to education in a scattered rural community

2019: World-leading microplastics discovery work

Category: Environment and Conservation

The University received its third Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education on 20 February, 2020, for its pioneering research on microplastics pollution in the oceans and its impact on the environment and changing behaviour.

The honour recognises nearly two decades of world-leading research into the effects of marine plastics on our environment by Plymouth researchers, led by Professor Richard Thompson OBE, which has resulted in repeated scientific breakthroughs and influenced national and international legislation.

It was in 2004 that the University first described the presence of microplastics in the marine environment, when in a seminal paper published in the journal Science, Professor Thompson and his team showed that there had been rising levels of microscopic plastic debris evident in the plankton record since the 1960s.

The paper attracted global media coverage, and inspired a new field of scientific enquiry, with Professor Thompson and his team at the very forefront as they followed up with a remarkable series of fundamental research papers. These included: being the first to show the global distribution of microplastics, including in the Arctic and the deep ocean; their ingestion by fish and other marine life; the role that textiles and wastewater play in their source and transmission – with a single wash of clothing releasing more than 700,000 microfibers; and how some facial scrubs could contain up to 2.8 million microbeads.

The University’s interdisciplinary International Marine Litter Research Unit also considers public attitudes and behavioural aspects in relation to plastic and the marine environment. This has been backed by a commitment to engaging with industry bodies and government that has included presenting scientific evidence at the United Nations, G7 and EU levels. As a result, the University has influenced new legislation in the UK, Europe and Canada, including the ban on microbeads in cosmetics.

Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Plymouth, said:

“The award of our third Queen’s Anniversary Prize is a huge honour for the University and recognises the pioneering role that it has played in not only defining a global environmental issue, but working to find solutions to it. Richard Thompson and his team’s work in microplastics, indeed defining the very problem itself, is part of the University’s wider and globally renowned marine and maritime research, which, through a wide range of disciplines, addresses some of the world’s most pressing issues.”

Read more about our ground-breaking research

Queen's Anniversary Prize ceremony
Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor, and Professor Richard Thompson OBE, receiving the prize at Buckingham Palace

2011: Education and research solutions for the global marine sector

Category: Environment and Conservation
The University received its second Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education on 25 February, 2012, in recognition of our worldwide reputation for marine and maritime education and research. It paid tribute to the legacy and impact of our research, teaching and training across the marine and maritime sector. This included our pioneering partnerships with the Britannia Royal Naval College, FOST-HM, and international organisations such as the King Fahd Naval Academy.
The impact of our interdisciplinary approach was evidenced through our artists in residence who were engaging audiences through channels such as music, literature and exhibitions. Our innovative use of technology and commitment to fieldwork is continuing to generate world-leading research in areas such as coastal dynamics and processes, and is helping to shape international policy in the management of our coastal zones, ports and estuaries.
The awards formed part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and also coincided with the University's 150th anniversary of the founding of the Plymouth School of Navigation in 1862. Then Vice-Chancellor Professor Wendy Purcell attended Buckingham Palace with several invited guests, including Pro-Chancellor Barbara Bond MBE, and students and staff from the Marine Institute. 
Dr Andrew Eccleston, then member of the School of Marine Science and Engineering, said: 
“The Guildhall banquet with our invited guests and the Buckingham Palace ceremony were spectacular events, but importantly for me it was also the opportunity to re-connect with key players in the UK shipping industry and once again see Plymouth recognised as a global leader in maritime education. For this to happen in the year of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, when we also celebrate the 150th Anniversary since the founding of the School of Navigation in Plymouth, is quite literally a majestic achievement!”

As part of the presentation, then Director of the University’s Marine Institute, Professor Martin Attrill, received a commemorative certificate from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. He said:

“From ocean acidification and climate change, to renewable energy and coastal management – our interdisciplinary expertise is globally relevant and enables us to tackle some of the grand challenges of our day.”

Professor Deborah Greaves OBE added:

“It’s great for Plymouth to receive the award in this special year when we celebrate our 150th birthday and open the new Marine Building, with its world-class facilities.”

Learn more about the Marine Institute

The Queen's Anniversary Prize 2011
The Queen's Anniversary Prize

1994: Widening access to education in a scattered rural community

Category: Education and Training
The University was awarded one of the first ever Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education in 1994.
The award was the result of a detailed submission, drawn up during the latter stages of the 1993–94 academic year, which focused on a University-led programme that has revolutionised the delivery of degree and diploma courses in the South West. The submission culminated in then Vice-Chancellor Professor John Bull’s attendance at Buckingham Palace in February 1995, when he received a gold medal and illuminated certificate from HM The Queen.
The University was honoured for its programme of widening access to education and training, carried out in collaboration with its partner colleges throughout the South West. As the Times Higher Education Supplement put it: 
“The serious problem of attracting and retaining students from inner city areas, and across widely scattered rural communities with inadequate public transport, has been successfully tackled by the University of Plymouth.”
The University’s submission, backed up by its partner colleges, was compiled by then Academic Partnerships Manager Dr Ian Tunbridge OBE. The award submission spelt out the benefits of the unique partnership, enabling students throughout the region to study closer to home. At the time of the award, the collaboration comprised 17 local partner colleges in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and the Channel Islands, and offered over 40 courses ranging from HNCs and HNDs to BA and BSc undergraduate degrees.
The citation from the judges described the close-knit co-operation between the University and its partner colleges as:
“An exceptionally well thought out – and executed – programme to improve educational opportunity in a scattered rural environment. Innovative and capable of replication.”