GWENT'S university has picked up a major national award praising it for widening participation in higher education.

The University of Wales, Newport, was last night recognised for its collaboration with the University of Glamorgan on the University Heads of the Valleys Institute (UHOVI) project by the Guardian University Awards.

Backed by £16m in Welsh Government funding, UHOVI offers a raft of courses ranging from foundation degrees to taster courses at locations across the Valleys.

The scheme was set up to make learning more accessible in the area.

Judges thought that it was a "high impact, aspirational project suited to the local area" with the potential to be replicated in deprived cities and towns.

The institute's director Helen Marshall said: "We are delighted to have won this award for the outstanding success of the UHOVI.

"UHOVI enables local people, many from disadvantaged communities, to gain access to higher education and therefore the relevant skills to give them the best career opportunities for the future.

"Over 3,200 people have already enrolled in the initiative and it's a privilege to be able to help them achieve their dreams.

"We've seen numerous success stories and examples of university education making a positive difference to the lives of individuals and their families."

Wendy Berliner, head of education for Guardian Professional and chair of the judging panel, said: "In this first year of the awards, the competition has been very strong and all of our winners should be immensely proud of what they have achieved."

The University of Wales, Newport, received its award during a ceremony in London last night. The university is set to merge with its partner on UHOVI, the University of Glamorgan, later this year.