While there were two specific FE categories, for institutions and for students, colleges were also short-leeted in the categories for international student of the year, partnership of the year and vocational training. Aberdeen College collected four "silver" awards in total, and Linda McTavish, principal of Anniesland College was given an honorary fellowship of the SQA.
John Wheatley College, arguably facing the toughest challenge in FE in serving the Glasgow deprivation black spots of Shettleston, Easterhouse and Queenslie, took the "gold" award as college of the year.
The judges singled out the college's information and learning technologies "champions programme", in which a leading expert is appointed to each of its 14 curricular teams.
Since the initiative began in August last year, the SQA noted, "the teaching and learning experience of staff and students alike has been enhanced significantly. Staff have the impetus to broaden discussion on learning and teaching approaches and to implement a range of new and exciting opportunities for students."
John Wheatley's 6,000 students are mostly on non-advanced courses, with half of them studying part-time. The HMIE report published earlier this year gave the college an almost clean sweep of very good scores for leadership, its approach to inclusion, student guidance and support, staff, quality assurance and quality improvement. Only its resources were rated merely as good.
The runners-up were Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, praised for maintaining its core business of maritime education while broadening into other areas, and Lauder College whose new "media space" for the creative industries brought it to the SQA's attention.
The college student of the year was Paul McVey, a 42-year-old who took an HN in sports coaching from Kilmarnock College - after a varied career that included being a London firefighter and acting as a bodyguard to members of the royal family.
But it was Mr McVey's establishment of a martial arts organisation in Sri Lanka which made him a more unusual SQA winner than most. There, more than 200 local students learned English alongside the martial arts. When two of those students perished in the tsunami, he raised money for the village where they came from. A boys' orphanage has benefited from new beds, sports equipment, food, medicines and toilet and shower facilities.
The runner-up was Emma Brumpton, who took an HND in television operations and production at Aberdeen College. She has used her skills to make documentaries about the deprivation facing young children abroad, particularly in South Africa.
The bronze award went to Michael Basquill, a GP who was struck down by a stroke and turned to Forth Valley College to help pull him through. Dr Basquill's "supportive and encouraging" approach to students he considers have had fewer opportunities than him also commended him to the SQA.
James Watt College came out winner of the Scottish Enterprise award for vocational training. Its centre for employability has grown to 24 staff from just three in 2001 and supports around 1,000 disadvantaged people a year, an initiative described as "outstanding".
Runner up was the Aberdeen College hairdressing team, followed by a youth support project at Clackmannan, developed by Forth Valley College, and Stirling Council.
Other successes included:
* International centre of the year finalists - Aberdeen College, for the activities of its commercial arm which introduces SQA qualifications overseas, and Reid Kerr College, for its international work and support for the 536 foreign students attending the college.
* International student of the year - Reda Abushnaq from Libya, who was an HN student at Forth Valley College and has now moved on to Heriot-Watt University, and Senka Dervisevic from Banja Luka in the former Yugoslavia, who studied English at Aberdeen College and now plans to be a mortgage adviser.
* Partnership of the year - Aberdeen College, for its work with others in supporting vulnerable and homeless young people, and Jewel and Esk Valley College, which was cited for working with the health service and Napier University in nurse training.