The biggest awards event in the Further Education calendar in Northern Ireland took place this week at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, County Down. The BEST Awards recognise innovation in a wide range of areas ranging from creative industries, to visual design and life sciences being cultivated by students and lecturers across Northern Ireland’s six Further Education Colleges.
Among those showcasing their innovations were South West College (SWC) students, Damien McQuaid from the Foundation Degree in Design (Graphic and Product) and Siobhan Ferguson and Pawel Jasny from the Foundation Degree in Building Services and Renewable Energy.
The Awards were organised by Colleges NI who are the representative body for all six of Northern Ireland’s Further Education Colleges. The Awards are linked to the development of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The students competing for the awards highlight the cutting edge and economically relevant skills delivered by Colleges across Northern Ireland.
Damien McQuaid from Omagh received the Innovation Award (sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering) for his project entitled ‘The land of the not so free’ – a board game based on traditional rules created as a result of the current global political crisis. The Built Environment Award, sponsored by RPS Group went to SWC duo from Cookstown Siobhan Ferguson and Pawel Jasny for their biomethane collection from kitchen waste.
Speaking about the awards, Paul Duffy, Course co-ordinator at SWC said: “This year’s standards of all 60 participants was particularly high. The whole environment and atmosphere surrounding the BEST Awards is one of innovation, excitement and possibility and so many of the ideas showcased have the potential to solve real life problems.”
Other projects included detection systems for dangers on farms, alert systems for pharmaceutical supplies, uses for 3D printing, development of children’s educational material, harnessing the energy power of the sea, gaming and recycling.
The winners were chosen by a panel of judges drawn from The British Council, the Department for Economy, the Federation of Small Businesses, the NI Science Festival, OCN Northern Ireland, The Princes Trust, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, W5, the Royal Academy of Engineering and Young Enterprise NI.
The overall winner from this year’s BEST Awards was a group of students from Belfast Metropolitan College, who created ‘Wee Kids “Island Escape”’ an interactive 3D game for Primary School children teaching essential geometry skills via gamification methods.
Gerry Campbell, Chief Executive of Colleges NI said: “Further Education Colleges across Northern Ireland are preparing students to play a leading role in the development of the Northern Ireland economy. The excellent projects produced by students who have taken part in the BEST Awards showcase the skills and entrepreneurialism that will be needed to fill the jobs of the future.
It is vital that these students and all students across Northern Ireland receive the support that will enable them to achieve their full potential for the benefit of society. This support needs to be provided by government. Students and employers are facing huge uncertainties and threats to future funding owing to the absence of a pro skills and pro business Northern Ireland Executive.
Our economy faces not only the challenges of the global marketplace but the uncertainties around the potential impact of Brexit.”