The tradition of the Academic Awards dates back to UIA and RUCA, former constituent parts of the University of Antwerp.
In 1987, a bequest was donated with the aim of promoting scientific research and encouraging young researchers. The bequest focused in particular on research into gaining insights and combating great human suffering. UAntwerp named the legacy the Rosa Blanckaert Foundation.
The funds were used to award the biennial Robert Oppenheimer Prize and two or more encouragement grants for young researchers at UAntwerp. The name of the biennial Robert Oppenheimer Prize was chosen according to the testamentary dispositions because
‘thanks to his exceptional intellectual abilities, his unremitting energy, his scientific honesty and finally his profound humanity, this eminent scientist can be seen as an example for the younger generations ’.
Initially, the prize was awarded to excellent researchers associated with UAntwerp, as a recognition for their overall research work and on the condition they hadn’t reached their 40th birthday at the time of the award.
In 1994, Freddy Adams, rector of the UIA, took the initiative to honour meritorious young researchers who, after defending their doctoral thesis, showed a high level of excellence.
That same year, the RUCA awarded the ‘Robert Oppenheimer Prize for exceptional research in experimental and biomedical sciences’ through the Rosa Blanckaert Bequest.
After the merger in 2003, the Research Board of the University of Antwerp decided to uphold both initiatives as the biennial ‘Research Board Awards’. In the first few years, there were some experiments with alternative awards. The Sustainable Development Award for example, was issued only once, in 2003. One year later, Koen Fillet and Sven Speybrouck, presenters of the radio show ‘Jongens en Wetenschap’ (Boys and Science) received the Award for Science Communication in recognition of their scientific and social service to society.
In 2005, the first real Service to Society Award was added to the list of four Research Board Awards. From then on, the Research Board decided to name its awards after outstanding professors in the field.
The award for Biomedical and Medical Sciences is named after Laurent Vandendriessche, honorary rector and founder of the UIA.
Herman Deleeck, founder of the Centre for Social Policy at the UFSIA, lends his name to the Award for Social and Human Sciences.
Finally, Frans Verbeure, Professor of Physics and Vice-Rector of Research at the UIA, is honoured by giving his name to the Exact Sciences Award.
In 2011, the award procedure was changed. From now on, it’s the Bureau of the Research Board that decides on the Robert Oppenheimer Prize, in the presence of the chairpersons of the relevant juries for the Research Board Awards. The juries in the fields of ‘Exact and Applied Sciences’ and ‘(Bio-)medical sciences’ propose a runner-up, selected from the nominations they received for the Research Board Awards. The Robert Oppenheimer Prize is worth €4,000.
In 2013, the Education Board Award was added and the Academic Awards in its current form were born.
At the award ceremony in 2015, the Board of Services to the University and the Community decided to name the Science Communication Award after pioneer Gust Bouwen.