University of Essex
University of Essex

March 24, 2017

Guest blog: Students need to have say in getting ready for an ever-changing digital world

VP Education Josh Gulrajani

VP Education Josh Gulrajani

The University of Essex has positioned itself at the forefront of education and research into the ever-changing digital world. With increasing investment in this area, and new innovative opportunities arising at the University, a strategic plan setting out how we as a community look at Digital, Creative and Cultural Skills is being created. I want to make sure that students have a say in this, as it is your education that this can aid, and your experience and employability that this can aid!

From the impact of 3D printing on the manufacturing industry, to the delivery of healthcare and even to the impact of Big Data on human rights, it is clear that the digital age is going to have an immense impact on us as students and even more so as graduates. It is time to look at our values and interests, and set some key actions of the University to ensure that we harness the digital, creative and cultural shift that we as a generation are undergoing.

The lines between the physical, digital, and even biological spheres are blurring, caused by a fusion of technologies and the “real life human” elements. With the developments in artificial intelligence and virtual reality in recent years, what it means to be a worker or even a human may be changing. It is the job of the University to ensure that we are being prepared for this new environment and that the education we are receiving here is moving with the times.

This strategy is going to outline how we as learners can diversify our skill set, gain further real-life opportunities, and develop our critical thinking and digital capabilities, be that through traditional teaching or the use of live projects. It is also going to make some headway in ensuring that we are as interdisciplinary as possible, allowing students to gain knowledge in a field different to that of their subject, but that will come together to produce a well-rounded education.

Some example of how the University has already embraced the changing environment are the developments already made into the games design, robotics, digital theatre and curation fields. Also  the Knowledge Gateway, which is a physical example of the University’s commitment to enhancing the digital skills of its students. With an award-winning Games Hub, space for digital entrepreneurs and start-ups, and a further Innovation Centre opening next year, now is the time for students to get an input into shaping our University.

The University is looking for your ideas and suggestions on how to draw these ideas together. The aim of the strategy will be to benefit students in making connections, forging collaborations, and generating impact that improves people’s lives and prepares you to go out and change the world!

VP Education Josh Gulrajani

Have your say

Please visit our consultation web page to share your views on our draft Digital, Creative and Cultural Sub-Strategy.

The deadline for comments is Friday 14 April 2017.



March 23, 2017

Guest blog: Tell us your views on our draft Digital, Creative and Cultural Sub-Strategy

Professor Lorna Fox O'Mahony

Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony

Our draft Digital, Creative and Cultural Sub-Strategy is now open for consultation.

The world is changing rapidly, and will be transformed many times over this century. A prominent feature of these changes is the role of digital and creative innovation in transforming how we work, live, communicate and consume. From the impact of 3D printing on manufacturing to social innovation in the ‘maker culture’, and from the delivery of healthcare to big data and human rights, the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, is characterized by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Huge computer power, automation, artificial intelligence and virtual reality are challenging how we understand what it means to be a worker, how governments function, how economies grow, how societies evolve, and – fundamentally – what it means to be human. Our success in harnessing the opportunities that this offers, and in managing the risks, will be driven by collaboration and creativity.

The Digital, Creative and Cultural Sub-Strategy is a new framework for bringing together some of our unique strengths in education and research. It sets out our approach in the context of our values, and identifies key actions that we will take to nurture and support excellence in education and in research. Our commitment to putting students at the centre of our thinking leads us to seek to develop further opportunities for our students to develop critical thinking, digital capabilities, creativity, communication and collaborative skills. Our commitment to research that makes a difference in the real world leads us to focus on how, across the University, we can be an effective partner in innovation to the digital, creative and cultural sectors, and also to the wider economy which draws on creative skills. And our commitment to inter-disciplinarity is reflected in our integrated and comprehensive pan-University approach to exploring, understanding and addressing digital, creative and cultural challenges.

Our approach to digital, creative and cultural education spans our activities, from schools outreach to graduate start-up support. The Sub-Strategy provides a framework for supporting and developing the education we offer through programmes of study that are directly focused on digital, creative or cultural learning, and for those which include digital skills, creative thinking, culture and communication within their broader aims. We encourage extra-curricular participation in arts and culture, and recognise its role in providing our students with opportunities to develop their cultural capital within an international and inclusive multi-cultural living and learning community.

Our researchers are leading the way in digital and creative arts in games design, digital theatre, digital curation and heritage, virtual reality applications, and support for creative and cultural economies. We are also undertaking research into data visualisation, visual perception, robotics and artificial intelligence. Our aim is to combine expertise in digital technologies, content generation, cultural engagement and communication to improve people’s lives.

On the Knowledge Gateway, our Parkside Office Village is already home to a wide range of digital and creative businesses. Our unique, award-winning Games Hub provides opportunities for digital creative entrepreneurs to participate in an innovative games and business development studio. The University’s investment in high-performance computing to support advanced data visualisation enables us to attract new businesses as partners, supporting companies in “seeing and showing” the outcomes of big data analysis. Our Innovation Centre will open in 2018, and includes a focal point for digital and creative start-ups, freelancers and social enterprise entrepreneurs to work alongside students and academic staff.

The draft Digital, Creative and Cultural sub-strategy aims to draw together our ambitions for excellence, and to ensure the University provides a supportive environment for this work. We wish to benefit our students and support our staff in making connections, forging collaborations, and generating impact that improves people’s lives. We welcome your ideas and feedback.

Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, Chair of the Digital, Creative and Cultural Task and Finish Group

Have your say

Please visit our consultation web page to share your views on our draft Digital, Creative and Cultural Sub-Strategy.

The deadline for comments is Friday 14 April 2017.



March 17, 2017

Reaffirming our commitment to Essex as a cosmopolitan university committed to inclusivity and to internationalism

The Government will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty before the end of the month to begin the process of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. I want to take this opportunity to provide an update for staff, students and alumni on the actions that we have been taking and that are underway to support our community and to ensure that the University not only survives, but thrives in the new environment. 

It is important to remember that the triggering of Article 50 is not the date on which we leave the EU, but rather the formal notification of the UK Government’s intention to leave the EU and will be followed by two years of negotiation on the terms of exit. This will no doubt be a period of uncertainty as the negotiations ebb and flow. 

Our approach has been and will continue to be to seize opportunities to support our mission wherever we can find or create them.

  • We continue to work closely with Universities UK, and our friends and supporters in Parliament to lobby for the best possible deal for universities in securing access to research funding opportunities, free movement and mobility schemes for staff and students and to secure the rights of our non-UK EU staff.  Our EU partners in the 18 member Young European Research Universities Network (YERUN) will be publishing a statement in support of the need to maintain strong collaborative links and we really appreciate their support and encouragement. 
  • To mitigate the risks associated with a reduction in non-UK EU student numbers following Brexit, we have increased our engagement in EU countries in a variety of ways. In addition we have reorganised our student recruitment function to ensure we can more fully secure our fair share of talented students from across the globe. For example we have increased by 50% the size of our Regional International Office Network and we now have offices and staff in China, Nigeria, India and Malaysia. We have also appointed Professor Dominic Micklewright as Dean of Partnerships to lead mission critical work to further develop existing and new international research and recruitment partnerships with universities around the world. I have significantly increased my own visits programme to raise our institutional profile and have most recently visited Japan and Spain and over the summer and autumn will visit countries in South East Asia and China.

  • We are continuing to monitor levels of interest in the University from potential students. I am pleased to report that our total international undergraduate and postgraduate applications are up by 4% on the same point last year (and offers of places are up by 15%). Our (non-UK) European applications are up by 12% and offers are up by 17%. But we are recruiting students in a highly competitive market and we cannot be complacent and the impact of triggering Article 50 on applicant behaviour is something the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and our admissions staff will monitor very closely.
  • Following the decision on 23 June 2016 that the UK would leave the EU, we brought staff and students together through an open meeting and followed this up with a range of internal communications. We encouraged our community to contribute their ideas for what the University should be doing both practically and in terms of sharing our global and inclusivity values. Since then we have been providing information, advice and support.

  • We have put in place a range of events and activities to support and advise staff on residency and nationality issues. Further details are available on our Brexit information pages. These will continue to be updated as changes happen and will also include further actions that we plan to take to support our community.
Our One Essex campaign encourages inclusivity across the county of Essex.

Our One Essex campaign encourages inclusivity across the county of Essex.

  • As a direct result of the views expressed by our staff and students, we are this week launching a ‘One Essex’ campaign. The aim is to: re-affirm our University campuses as inclusive and safe places and spaces; and to work with local partners to raise visibility of these values in our local communities championing inclusivity and the benefits of membership of a global community. The first event is due to take place on Square 5 of the Colchester campus next Thursday. Our Students’ Union plan to build a physical Hate Wall where students and staff will post their views on, or experiences of, discriminatory behaviour throughout the day. At 5:30pm our community are invited to come together to knock down the wall to demonstrate that we are standing firm in relation to our values. Please support the event if you are able to so that we can show the strength of our feeling. A range of other ‘One World, One Spirit, One Essex’ events and activities will be taking place in the coming months and will be promoted through staff, student and alumni communications and social media.

With the triggering of Article 50 it is clear that the context in which we pursue our mission for excellence in education and research will be different, but our values remain unchanged. We remain a cosmopolitan university committed to inclusivity and to internationalism and we are proud to be a university where you can find the world in one place.

Professor Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor.



March 1, 2017

Zero tolerance to sexual harassment

At Essex we pride ourselves on our inclusive community and we work hard to create a welcoming and safe campus for all students and staff. For our University, this is not just a matter of meeting our statutory obligations. It is a matter of conviction that every individual member of our Essex community deserves to develop and fulfil their potential free from harassment. We therefore have a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and are fully committed to eradicating sexual harassment and sexual violence on our campuses.

In response to growing concern about this issue in universities, over the last five months, we have been working with our Students’ Union to review all aspects of our policies and procedures addressing how we tackle sexual violence, sexual harassment and hate crime. This work is being led by our Director of Human Resources and our Academic Registrar working collaboratively with our Students’ Union leadership and consulting with the campus trades unions.  We have drawn on the recent work of UUK and the longstanding commitment of the National Union of Students to tackle this issue.

An initial report on our policies and procedures has been prepared, which has provided reassurance that we have well developed systems and processes in place but has also identified ways in which we can and should improve further.  To help us achieve improvements, in addition to the work we are undertaking within the University we have commissioned an external expert partner to benchmark our approach and performance, so that our community benefits from the very best practice for all organisations and not just universities. This work will conclude later in the spring and be shared widely with staff and students across our three campuses.

As part of our commitment to eradicating sexual harassment and sexual violence on our campuses, I want to highlight:

  • That anyone who feels they have been a victim of sexual violence, sexual harassment or hate crime at Essex should feel encouraged to speak out and seek support, without the power relations which exist in universities being an obstacle to this.
  • Our existing Guidelines for dealing with harassment and bullying. These are designed for both staff and students and set out our zero tolerance approach, offer practical guidance and also explain where to seek support.
  • The recent launch of our Stand Up! Essex project, a joint project with the Students’ Union which aims to educate and equip our staff and students to be able to identify sexual harassment or violence and be able to intervene safely and challenge inappropriate behaviour. You can find out more about Stand Up! Essex on our website.
  • Our well established Harassment Advisory Network; a team of trained advisers offering a confidential signposting service for anyone experiencing some form of harassment or bullying. This excellent service has been running for more than 20 years and has been used as a model for similar services at other universities.
  • The University’s designation as an official Hate Crime Reporting Centre, acting as a safe place for the reporting of any hate crime, by either victim or witness.

The University of Essex is a place where we respect one another, where all members deserve to be treated with dignity and where we have zero tolerance for any form of harassment or bullying. Having the right policies and procedures in place is absolutely key but equally important is the experience of how we interact with each other on a daily basis. I hope we can all work together to continue to make Essex a safe place to live, learn and work.

Professor Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor



February 22, 2017

Supporting our mission – shaping our future

Our University is embarking on an exciting period of growth. Here our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, tells us more about the ambitious plans.

In response to record levels of interest from applicants in securing a place at the University of Essex, combined with the growth in academic staff numbers and our overall financial health, the University’s Council has agreed to a step-change in our level of investment in new and refurbished teaching facilities, including new lecture space, seminar rooms and teaching laboratories; informal student spaces; student accommodation; and new sports facilities.

Funded through the cash surpluses that we generate each year and a net additional £100m of borrowing, these investments will ensure the delivery of our mission of excellence in education and research through to 2025.

At our Loughton campus, work is already underway to improve student learning and social spaces and this will be enhanced by the consolidation of all activities onto the main Hatfields site.  Development of tailor-made studio and technical facilities for our East 15 students at Loughton will help consolidate its reputation as a world leading drama school.

At Southend, the substantial investment the University has made in the development of our campus in recent years means we are well placed to support continued growth within our existing buildings. Investment will therefore be focused on improving the way that space is able to contribute to excellence in education and research, for the benefit of students and staff.

Between now and 2025 our Colchester campus will be improved through:

  • two new teaching centres – one of which will incorporate a new large lecture hall space
  • refurbishment of the Towers student accommodation
  • creation of new office accommodation for 250 staff
  • a major programme of refurbishment of the 1960s estate
  • the development of new student accommodation to supplement and provide more variety to our existing provision

Investment on this scale will be carefully planned and spread over a period of time and we envisage a programme covering the next eight years.

Planning for growth

We currently have 14,000 students and new student facilities will allow us to grow to a total of 20,000 students by 2025. At the same time, we will broaden the range of subjects we offer through the growth of existing departments and the creation of two new academic departments, allowing us to offer more applicants the opportunity to access our unique Essex education.

New and refurbished space for our staff

We have already recruited 152 new academic staff over the last three years and we are on track to submit around 600 research-active staff to the next Research Excellence Framework (REF). The refurbishment of existing academic space and creating space for 250 new academic staff will provide the best possible environment for our staff to flourish and deliver outstanding education and research. World class facilities will also help us to attract and retain the very best staff.

Enhancing and expanding student accommodation

By refurbishing our existing accommodation and creating new student residences, more of our students will have the opportunity to enjoy the unique experience and education that we offer.

Through our successful partnership with ULiving we are working on new student accommodation projects, drawing upon their expertise in providing comfortable, affordable and purpose-built student homes. We will also refurbish the six Towers at Colchester; modernising the accommodation whilst ensuring that we continue to offer affordable accommodation to all our students.

Making change work for us

The University has a proud history of making change work for us and I am delighted that we are seizing the opportunity to shape our future. The immediate next steps are for us to secure the funding which the University Council has approved and to start developing outline plans for all our campus developments.

We will keep you updated as to the progress of our exciting plans through staff briefing sessions and updates in Essex Weekly and Essex Spirit.

Professor Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor



February 21, 2017

Sustainable Essex

The University of Essex has recently developed a Sustainability Sub-Strategy to provide strategic direction to the University’s environmental values and performance. The strategy was approved by our governing Council in December 2016, and includes sustainability objectives covering carbon and energy management, waste management, transport, biodiversity, IT services, procurement, water, food, and stakeholder engagement.

Here, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty, tells us more about the details. 

Environmental stock-taking

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty.

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty.

The University has a comprehensive and varied sustainability programme encompassing students and staff at all three campuses, and seeks to contribute to excellence in our research, education and professional services.  The sub-strategy provided an opportunity to review this work and benchmark progress against peer institutions.  The strategy reveals that carbon dioxide emissions are down to 15,571 tonnes of CO2 per year from a peak of 18,850 tonnes CO2 in 2012-13. Emissions per square metre are now down to 0.065 tonnes of CO2 per m2, putting the University among the top 30 in the country. Other advances have been made in natural habitat protection, in waste recycling, and in water consumption.

Strategic direction

Sustainability is important to all the University’s stakeholders: our staff, students, visitors, neighbours and business partners. It also has financial outcomes.  In 2015-16 the University’s energy bills were 10% lower than in 2014-15. This allows us to divert valued resources back to the University’s core mission of education and research. The sustainability agenda also supports the University’s other strategies.  As part of the development of the strategy work was undertaken with colleagues in food, transport and occupational health to assess how the benefits of eating healthily, making use of the University’s estate in Colchester, Loughton and Southend, and engaging in active transport contribute to our well-being as well as improving the University’s environmental performance. This has created close links with the new Healthy University Sub-Strategy.

Students leading on sustainability

Across our three campuses students have been leading the way on sustainability.  Our Student Switch Off programme, sees students in University Accommodation compete to cut carbon in halls.  This year, students have cut their electricity use by more than 10%,  Accommodation have continued to work with students on its No Waste Graduation with the British Heart Foundation.  Over 16 tonnes of goods were donated, raising more than £34,000 for BHF. Student enthusiasm for sustainability continues to be substantial, with many receiving our Green Impact training, enabling them to assist staff with sustainability with departments.  It is encouraging to see how students are leading the way on activities so important to the University.

Continuing improvements

The Sustainability Sub-Strategy is reported on annually to USG and Council, and reviewed termly by the Sustainability Engagement Group.  To have a look at the University’s objectives on Sustainability, visit our strategies webpage.

You can also keep in touch with sustainability on campus by tweeting us at twitter.com/UoE_Sus or emailing Daisy dm16141@essex.ac.uk or Dan ddempsey@essex.ac.uk in our sustainability team.



February 20, 2017

Cherishing academic freedom

The University of Essex is one of the most international universities in the world and we have staff and students who travel to and from 135 countries. We place great value on academic freedom and the opportunity to exchange ideas directly and indirectly across the world.

But these values are being challenged, as seen most recently in Turkey and the United States. The University stands ready to answer any questions and, where possible, to offer advice and support to students and staff affected.

Members of our University have the right to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions within the law, without placing themselves in jeopardy. We cherish the freedom to conduct research, teach, speak, and publish without interference or penalty and we value international mobility and staff and student exchanges which are vital enablers of research collaboration and the sharing of knowledge.

I am proud that our University is a place where different ideas are debated openly and passionately. We celebrate the diversity of opinions that our staff and students hold and we champion the right of all members of our community to give voice to their points of view, within the law.

Despite these principles being recognised internationally as central to what it means to be a university, they are not universally observed in higher education systems across the world.

The University is committed to developing the knowledge, skills and experience of people who want to make the world a better place and who have the courage and energy to shape it and we support our staff and students in lawfully taking a stand on this and other issues that they feel passionately about.



February 6, 2017

Setting our rents at the right level

Ever wondered how the University sets the rents for its accommodation? Here, our Director of Campus Services and Estates, Chris Oldham, explains the process.

CO croppedAs a growing campus university, our accommodation plays a key role in student satisfaction. From location to facilities, flat mates to rents, when you sign up to live on campus – you want to be assured that your new home will provide everything you need.

Setting the right level of rent is a complex business that must take into account a number of different factors, which is why we consulted and carried out extensive research before increasing the rents for 2017-18.

Calculating the right rate

For the Meadows and Quays accommodation, owned and operated by ULiving, we calculate the rents annually using an inflationary based formula.

Uliving conduct a market review every five years, comparing our rent rates to those of the market.

For University owned accommodation, we aim to minimise our rent price increases to within predicted inflationary levels, in order to keep prices as low as possible for our students.

With the Towers accommodation, we have been able to retain some of the lowest priced accommodation in the sector.

Benchmarking

In order to get a clear view of the prices being charged across the higher education sector, we benchmark our rents against our competitor institutions and also against the private sector  - where purpose built student accommodation is provided, for example at the Maltings, Avon Way and Forest Road. It is important for us to remain competitively priced; our rent prices remain consistently below the sector average.

Consultation 

We also know it’s important to consult with our Students’ Union as part of the rent setting process. We make sure the SU has a full picture of what we charge and why, and make sure they are comfortable with any rent increases we introduce.

Value for money

Making sure our students receive value for money is an important part of what we do. We have increased the funding made available for refurbishment and maintenance by 40%, in order to continually enhance our accommodation. We also work hard to increase our efficiency, with the aim of minimising rent costs for our students, whilst enhancing the services we offer.

Rent increases for 2017-18 academic year

University Steering Group (USG) has now approved rent increases of between 1.70% and 4.48% for the academic year 2017-18.

These rates have been published on our accommodation website.



January 31, 2017

Supporting our community following the US immigration Executive Order

I sent this statement to our University community today (Tuesday January 31):

“The University of Essex is one of the most international universities in the world and we have staff and students who travel to and from 135 countries. We value academic freedom and the opportunity to exchange ideas directly and indirectly across the world. On 27 January, the President of the United States of America issued an Executive Order temporarily banning citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan from entering the USA for 90 days, as part of a range of changes to US immigration policy. We know that international mobility is a vital enabler of research collaboration and staff and student exchanges. This Executive Order will have a negative impact on what we believe lies at the very heart of nurturing a global scholarly community.

“If any staff or students are experiencing difficulties as a result of the Executive Order, please could you contact the Registrar and Secretary at registrar@essex.ac.uk so that we can provide support to you at this very difficult time. For any staff and students who are passport holders from one of the seven countries and who have plans to travel to the US on university business, again please could you contact the Registrar and Secretary at registrar@essex.ac.uk so we can advise you on your options in the context of a situation that appears to be very fluid and subject to rapid change with little advance notice.”

“We have asked Universities UK to lobby the UK and US governments on behalf of the UK Higher Education sector and will work closely with UUK to monitor developments, secure clarification, and seek to influence emerging policy.”



January 5, 2017

The importance of the National Student Survey (NSS) for understanding teaching quality in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

Assessing the quality of teaching in higher education is complex, with many factors impacting on the educational experience of students.  We the undersigned believe students’ views about their own learning experiences must be central to any credible assessment of teaching quality. In the Higher Education White Paper, the Government is committed to putting students at the heart of how higher education is regulated, with a focus on transparency and student choice. The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) represents a key element of this transparent architecture. Only by giving sufficient weight to the student voice within the TEF will the Government succeed in placing students at the centre of the higher education system.

This is not a new issue within higher education. In the well-established and accepted mechanisms for assessing research quality, the views of users, in the form of peer review of research outputs and impact case-studies, are central to the judgements made about the quality of research at UK universities. It would be perverse for the TEF not to adopt a comparable, user-centric approach.

The National Student Survey (NSS) provides the most robust and comprehensive basis for capturing students’ views about the quality of their education and student experience. Completed by students at all publicly-funded Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, as well as all Alternative Providers (APs) in England, the NSS provides a consistent basis for capturing the judgements of students across the range of their educational and wider student experiences. The use of a common set of questions, applied at all universities, provides the only means of establishing an evidence base that can inform comparisons across universities. It is precisely this feature of the NSS that makes it uniquely well-placed to represent the student voice within the TEF.

The NSS is widely recognised as an authoritative survey by prospective students. The results are made available to prospective students and their advisors through the Unistats website.  As one of the key objectives of the TEF is to provide prospective students with information that will allow them to make informed choices about where to study, it would be perverse to exclude use of the only cross-sector, reliable source of student’s views about the quality of their education provision, from the TEF.

The NSS plays a crucial role in signalling to students the importance of their views and experiences of their education. It is practical evidence of the compact that underwrites the scholarly community, where having a voice matters and where there is a joint commitment to the provision of an excellent education for all.  The unique insight and perspective of students and the perspicacity of students’ comments enables universities to continue to enhance the education that is provided to current and future cohorts of students, and to do so in collaboration with our students. Excluding the NSS from the TEF would undermine this compact and severely damage our ability to continually enhance the excellence of the higher education.

Professor Anthony Forster, Vice-Chancellor, University of Essex

Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor, University of East Anglia


 

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