Sponsorship can make or break an event, and without it the STARAwards would not be what they are today - a deserving testament to the hard work and dedication of not only the winners, but to all those nominated too.
meets this year's sponsors
When public sector union Unison was asked to sponsor the inaugural STAR Awards in 2004, it had no hesitation in saying yes. Unison is Britain's largest union, with 1.3 million members, most of whom work in local government or the NHS. It is the first to admit that its 30,000 members in further education colleges sometimes feel overlooked - by learners as well as the union itself.
This year it is again sponsoring the award for Outstanding Support other than Learning. Christine Lewis, national officer for FE and sixth form college staff, says: "We're sending a signal to other people in our union that every member counts. We want the work they do to be acknowledged."
According to Ms Lewis, a 2004 judge, it is sometimes difficult for support staff to gain recognition in a college or other learning environments. "We want to show that education relies on a team. Support staff often struggle for visibility even though they are about half the workforce," she says.
This year's 16 prizes are being sponsored by 13 organisations. The Learning and Skills Council has joined the list of sponsors for the first time and is backing two awards, including a new category for Outstanding Team.
Most of the organisations, including two pri-vate companies, are well-known but see the awards as an opportunity to further raise their profile and to demonstrate their commitment to the sector.
Protocol Training, which supplies tutors and materials to colleges and employers for adult basic skills classes, is sponsoring the BasicKey Skills Tutor of the Year award for the second year running. Ian Garcia, Protocol's marketing director, says the company wants to see how the best tutors work "on the front line" and reward their enthusiasm and commitment.
"We are interested in understanding what makes a tutor tick," he says.
"By investing in a process like this, we get to talk to some of the best tutors in the country. This helps to improve the quality of what we are offering."
Stephen Uden, education relations manager at Microsoft, agrees that the awards are helpful from a marketing perspective but insists this is not the reason for his company's involvement. "I have colleagues who persuade people that Microsoft is the solution to their needs. I'm more concerned that it is a good partner to the education sector," he says.
For organisations such as the Centre for Excellence in Leadership and the Institute for Learning, both set up in the past three years, the awards are an ideal opportunity to cement their reputation and support their objectives. The IfL, which sponsored an award for cross-sector good practice in 2004, is now sponsoring the new Lifetime Achievement award. "We want to mark professionalism and good practice wherever it exists," says Monica Deasy, chair of the institute.
Anne Nicholls, communications manager at the Learning and Skills Development Agency, says the awards recognise the efforts of all staff - not just the high-flyers. "There is a huge amount of talent and excellent work, but not enough people know about it," she says.
The FE Tutor of the Year award, previously sponsored by the Further Education National Training Organisation, is now sponsored by Lifelong Learning UK, the new sector skills council for the post-16 sector.
The Association of Learning Providers is continuing to sponsor the Work-based Learning Trainer of the Year award. Chief executive Graham Hoyle believes work-based learning remains under-valued and misunderstood, but says awards schemes such as the STARs demonstrate the importance of learning in the workplace. "I'm interested in making sure work based learning is in the public eye," he says.
"If we see that there is top class work-based learning going on across the country, then let's give them all a bouquet," he says.