Distance learning grows and staff and students are rewarded for innovative ideas thanks to Gates Award
This guest blog was written by Donna Bowers and the staff of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Winning the Gates Award for Global Health in 2009 was a huge honour for us. We were delighted that the work of our staff and students to help disadvantaged people around the world by studying diseases, building health systems and training personnel had been recognised.
With academic and research institutions facing constant funding challenges, it is a joy to see hard work and commitment to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s mission of improving health worldwide rewarded in this way. It seemed appropriate that the $1 million prize money given by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation should be used to boost those efforts as much as possible.
The impact of the award has been felt throughout the School and has extended to overseas students, research teams and collaborators. We celebrated the anniversary of winning the prize with an event in Geneva which honoured the vital role of our alumni in everything we do. When it comes to marketing, communications and fundraising, the Gates Award has served as a fantastic, visible tool. By sending out a clear message about the quality and significance of our output, the Gates Award has helped us to secure funding for student scholarships, buildings development and research support.
After becoming the first British winner of the award two years ago, we set about identifying specific areas which could benefit the most from this valuable prize. We had hundreds of people working on a diverse range of high-profile research in established areas, but we wanted to find a way to better support innovative, smaller-scale projects. With this in mind, we launched the “LSHTM’s Got Talent” competition, which allowed staff to bid on relatively small but useful funds which could make a real difference. The Gates Award has also greatly enhanced what we can offer to students who do not have the time or money to study in London but still want to be trained up to improve global health through our popular Distance Learning programme.
A significant proportion of the prize has been dedicated to expanding our distance learning (DL) programme. A major success story for the School, this programme has helped thousands of talented people around the world gain the skills and expertise they need to improve public health by providing them with an education at a top institution without forcing them to move home or leave paid employment. Demand for such a flexible approach to education has grown over the last few years, and now we can grow with that demand. We now have 2,700 students in more than 140 countries.
Thanks to the Gates Award, we are delighted to report that we will be launching the world’s first MSc course in Global Health Policy by distance learning in September 2011. The prize money has also enabled us to set up new DL modules in pharmaco-epidemiology, infectious diseases and enhanced study skills support for distance learners. In short, the Gates Award has given a significant boost to the enhancement and expansion of our distance learning programme and provided more opportunities for students around the world to gain a valuable education and solid qualifications.
Many of our doctoral students come up with very exciting and innovative ideas for addressing major health problems but face obstacles in getting hold of sufficient funds for fieldwork. This prestigious award has allowed us to allocate small-scale research awards for students to carry out fieldwork in a range of topical areas.
Staff competition – LSHTM’s Got Talent
As the role of staff in research and teaching was a key factor in the School winning the award, it seemed only fair to give employees the chance to suggest how the prize could be shared out. With this in mind, we ran a special competition which allocated a total of £111,939 for selected projects. Applications were evaluated to see how well they met the requirements of benefiting staff in London or overseas, enhancing the visibility of our work, enabling interaction between employees or promoting green policies to reduce the environmental impact of our work.
In the end, 12 schemes were each awarded part of the competition fund. These included proposals for:
- Construction of new clinic/office space for the Karonga Prevention Study in Karonga, Malawi
- A meeting of 14 LSHTM researchers based in Tanzania with some of their key collaborators
- Visits to Uganda and Tanzania to plan the new East African Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
- A visit by four professional support staff to Swaziland to strengthen the VISION 2020 programme links
- Meetings of staff and alumni in Afghanistan
- Support for an evening symposium “Thinking with Insects” at LSHTM
- Sponsorship for staff taking part in a team walking challenge
Although the full benefits of some of the grants will not come to fruition for some years, the East African DTMH should launch in the autumn.
By providing useful funding to such a wide range of recipients we have ensured the impact of the Gates Award will be felt by future generations for many years to come.