Students Staff
University of Essex

September 24, 2020

Standing up to cyber crime

Our Director of Innovation and Technology, Jots Sehmbi provides an update on how we’re standing up to cyber-crime and actions we can all take to protect the University.

Dear Colleagues,

Over the last few months the Higher Education sector has been increasingly targeted by cyber threats, with two recent prominent cyber-attacks widely reported in the media, impacting both Northumbria and Newcastle universities. In one case, this resulted in the complete cessation of university operations, with students being unable to register for the new academic year.  These two cyber-attacks were “ransomware” attacks, which involve significant amounts of institutional data being held encrypted and held to “ransom” until a payment is made to cyber criminals to release the data.

As we all continue to work in an increasingly remote way across the University, the security and protection of the University’s information and data remains a key focus for ITS.  Over the last six months, ITS has been enhancing the University’s defences by implementing technical security measures in order to protect the University against cyber-attacks.  To ensure we are fully safeguarded against such attacks, we need your help.

The majority of successful cyber security incidents are triggered by inadvertent human actions, e.g.  clicking on a malicious web link in an email that seems authentic, opening a file attachment that purports to be genuine, or providing your Essex username and password to a third party by accident.

Humans are the greatest first line of defence against potential cyber-attacks. Therefore, we will be launching a refreshed information and cyber security training and awareness campaign called Stand Up To Cyber Crime for the new academic year. This will include periodic refresher training for all staff, a new training programme for students,  offering new guidance on how to remain safe when using the University’s IT services securely on and off campus.

From today all emails that come from outside the University which are delivered to your Essex email address will have a banner embedded, to remind staff that they should only open attachments from trusted and known sources, and to be extra vigilant with any embedded web links in emails. We are implementing this following the recommendations from the wider cyber security advisory bodies (NCSC and JISC) to the academic sector on protecting against cyber threats.

We can all take immediate simple steps to secure our information and data, such as not sharing your password with anyone, knowing how to spot a phishing email and understanding how to share information securely.  Additionally, the Information Champions network has members in every department and section to advise and guide on the secure use of information and data.

Please remember ITS teams will never ask you to share your password via email (or other channels), so please be cautious if you ever receive any emails of this nature and contact the IT Helpdesk for advice.

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me.

Jots Sehmbi

Director of Innovation and Technology



September 23, 2020

Protecting our community

Dear students,

We are looking forward to welcoming you at the start of the new academic year and will be updating you regularly on how we are continuing to respond to the pandemic.

The whole Essex community has been working together during the summer to prepare for the new year and ensure you are as safe as possible when you join us. I wanted to write to you now to emphasise how important it is for you all to adhere to the rules and expectations of behaviour on campus and uphold our COVID-19 health and safety guidance.

Staying safe on campus is not just important for your own health and wellbeing, but also for that of your fellow students, University staff, your families and friends and our wider local community.

It is with everyone’s safety in mind that you need to follow these simple rules:

  • Obey the ‘rule of six’: it is against the law to meet in a group of more than five other people from outside your household;
  • You must wear a face covering in all buildings where there is an instruction to do so and in all public areas. You must wear a face covering in all lectures and teaching events;
  • Wash your hands regularly and for more than 20 seconds;
  • Maintain social distancing –the ideal is to stay 2m apart from others.

We take the health and safety of our University community seriously and any breaches of our COVID-19 guidelines will be dealt with by our Student Conduct team and our Security team. Our Code of Student Conduct allows the University to take firm action against anyone found or reported to be putting others’ safety at risk by breaching our COVID-19 requirements.

Do not risk your university career or the health of your friends, family or our University community. Follow the guidelines and do your bit to keep Essex safe and free from COVID-19.

Thank you for your support.

Richard Stock

Academic Registrar



August 28, 2020

Event cancellation review

Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris.

Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris.

Last year, we launched a review into two events during the 2019-20 academic year. Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris, updates us on the progress of the review.

The review of two events during the 2019-20 academic year continues, having been delayed for a number of reasons. The two issues under review are:

  • the cancellation of the Centre for Criminology seminar on Trans Rights, Imprisonment and the Criminal Justice System, scheduled to take place on 5 December 2019; and
  • the arrangements for speaker invitations to the Holocaust Memorial Week event on the state of Antisemitism Today, scheduled for 30 January 2020.

A reviewer has been appointed, following approval from an internal panel. Akua Reindorf, a barrister from Cloisters Chambers, will be undertaking the work, which is expected to conclude by the end of the calendar year 2020.

The University community is invited to contribute comment, insight and testimony into the circumstances surrounding these events using confidential communication mechanisms. This feedback may be submitted anonymously.

Three secure mechanisms have been set up to allow members of staff and students to share feedback on the circumstances of the management and cancellation of these two events:

Email
Email feedback may be sent directly to Akua Reindorf, using a dedicated email address, external to the University: reindorf-review@cloisters.com.

Hard copy
Hard copy, written feedback may also be sent to the external reviewer, care of the Office of the Vice-Chancellor (OVC). Should this route be selected, two envelopes should be used. The sender should seal their testimony in a blank envelope and place this inside a second, outer envelope addressed to ‘External event reviewer, c/o the Office of the Vice-Chancellor’. The testimony included in the sealed, internal envelope will remain secure and will be posted by staff in the OVC, using special delivery, directly to Akua Reindorf.

In person
Those who wish to comment may also do so by speaking virtually with the reviewer. Meetings can be set up by sending an email to reindorf-review@cloisters.com.

All feedback will be kept confidentially, and the names of identifiable contributors or others named not disclosed, unless required to do so by law.

Anyone who wishes to submit feedback is encouraged to do so using these two methods by 17 September 2020.



July 22, 2020

All staff and student update from our Chair of Council and Vice-Chancellor

Dear staff and students,

On 17 June following consultation with the Chair of Council, the Vice-Chancellor sent an email (which is published as a blog) to let you know about the work that is underway to ensure that the experience of University staff and students lives up to our commitment to be an inclusive community. We are now writing to update you on the actions that we have been taking to address racism within our University.

The Tackling Racism Working Group, established in early June, planned and oversaw an initial listening phase to gather the views of our community. The Group has since prepared reports which have been discussed by the Resources Committee of University Council (on 22 June), by the University’s Senate (on 24 June), by the University Steering Group (USG) (on 30 June) and by the University’s governing body, Council (on 9 July).

The initial listening phase ended on 19 June. The Working Group has been in touch to thank our community for the views expressed and to set out next steps and we too wanted to express our gratitude to all those who shared their lived experiences and their ideas about how we should take this work forward.

We also wanted to let you know that at its meeting on 9 July, Council made an explicit commitment that the University will continue to listen to the views of our community in relation to how we tackle racism. We will hold ourselves to account for making progress to change our culture by taking actions that will have both immediate and long-term impact. Council approved all of the initial actions that the Working Group proposed including:

  • Identifying, agreeing and ensuring delivery of actions that will be taken quickly and that have the potential to make a real and immediate difference to the experiences of Black students and staff.
  • Undertaking a detailed analysis of the extensive feedback that we have received from our community and developing a detailed, fully costed, time-specific Anti-Racism Action Plan setting out short, medium, and long term actions (with final reports going to USG, Resources Committee of Council, Senate and Council at their first meetings in the autumn term).
  • Immediately recognising (both financially and in non-financial terms) the contribution of the Black students who are actively involved in delivery of this work as members of the Working Group.
  • Also recognising the contribution of staff involved in the Working Group and in particular, of one or two members who will have time specifically allocated to lead this work (alongside dedicated central leadership).
  • Allocating professional project management and coordination support for this work and drawing on the University’s qualitative and quantitative data analysis and reporting expertise.
  • Seeking independent external expertise to help us shape our Anti-Racism Action Plan.

We have been determined to make rapid progress but we know that these initial actions are simply first steps in achieving the scale of change that members of our community rightly expect from us. We are determined to ensure that we maintain this initial momentum, build on the current levels of engagement and discussion, and take decisive actions that lead to a real and sustained difference to the lived experience of our black students and staff.

Jane Hamilton
Chair of Council

Anthony Forster
Vice-Chancellor



July 15, 2020

Enhanced protection

Dear Colleagues and Students,

The University’s Council has taken the decision that the University should move back into the ‘Enhanced Protection’ level of our response to COVID-19 from today (Monday 13 July).

We have set out what this means on our website in our University Business Continuity Plan. The University’s Business Continuity plan sets out four different levels of protection – Advanced (the most stringent), Enhanced, Sustained and Targeted.

As a consequence of moving to ‘Enhanced Protection’ we will begin the process of bringing more activities into on-campus operation in a carefully planned and phased way. Access to campus will still be very limited. Staff and students who have a specific need to come onto campus will be able to do so, with approval, as part of a phased return plan.  Everyone else – and those who can – should continue to work and study from home, until we move into Sustained Protection, which will not be before 7 September at the earliest. Any University staff who are unsure about how they should be working during this period of ‘Enhanced Protection’, should contact their line manager.  The approaches we have developed allow us to start a careful and phased return to more on-campus work and study and to plan for the new academic year.

Our ‘How to come onto our campuses’ pages for staff and for students have been updated to share this information with you so that you can see how we are planning to keep you safe and what will be expected of you.  I would ask all staff and students to read the contents of these webpages carefully.  Please do continue to review them, as they will be updated to reflect changing government requirements and scientific advice.

We will share detailed communications as and when further changes happen. If you have any questions, please contact covid19@essex.ac.uk.

Bryn Morris

Registrar and Secretary



July 7, 2020

Our campuses

Dear all,

Many thanks for all your feedback on our proposals for how we, as a community, could return to our campuses safely. I am pleased to be writing now to share the detail of how we will do this.  I know that everyone is very keen to hear how we can live, learn and work on our campuses – both now and for the new academic year.

We have revised and developed our plan following comments and feedback from staff and students.   The plan will inform the way in which we will manage our safe return to on-campus work and study.

We have also developed guidance on, for example, how the spaces on our campuses will be used, how we should behave when we come on to campus, and the things we all need to consider before we do so to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all staff and students.

Our ‘How to come onto our campuses’ pages for staff and for students have been updated to share this information with you so that you can see how we are planning to keep you safe and what will be expected of you.  I would ask all staff and students to read the contents of these webpages carefully.  Please do continue to review them, as they will be updated to reflect changing government requirements and scientific advice.  We will share detailed communications as and when changes happen. If you have any questions, please contact covid19@essex.ac.uk.

The Business Continuity Plan sets out four different levels of protection – Advanced (the most stringent), Enhanced, Sustained and Targeted.

We are currently in Advanced Protection.

The University’s Council (our governing body) will consider whether the time is right to alter our level of protection at their meeting of 9 July, after reviewing and assessing the guidance and policy documents that we have developed.  Our proposal is that we should move to Enhanced Protection from 13 July.  Once we are ready to move to Enhanced Protection, we will let you know.  When we move to Enhanced Protection, we will begin re-opening campus in a carefully planned and phased way and access to campus will still be limited.  Staff and students who have a specific need to come onto campus will be able to do so, with approval, as part of a phased return plan.  Everyone else – and those who can – should continue to work and study from home, until we move into Sustained Protection, which will not be before 7 September at the earliest.

The approaches we have developed allow us to start a careful and phased return to on-campus work and study and to plan for the new academic year.  As one component of this, and in line with Government guidance, we will be building our timetable on the basis of a requirement for 1 metre of social distancing, where the characteristics of the teaching room (such as layout and ventilation) and the type of activity make this appropriate, with a 2 metre social distance between lecturers and students.  This will require that we all follow guidance on other mitigations needed to support this level of occupation of our teaching rooms (for example, including the wearing of face coverings).

When you return to campus, plans will be in place to protect our community.  This does mean that the campuses will look a little different in places (for example, with new screens in place in some areas, and updated signage) – but they will still be the Essex we all know as our work and study place.

We are continuing to work hard on further enhancements to our plans, in consultation with our campus trade unions and safety representatives.  For example, we know how important it will be to have a clear approach to test, track and trace as part of our preventative and responsive measures.  We will keep you updated as this additional work progresses.

Lastly, I want to send huge thanks to everyone who has helped keep our University operations going, both those working remotely, and those members of staff who have been on site and have kept our campuses running in the last few months.   You have been central to supporting all the students who have remained in our residences – students who call our campuses home.  Thank you so much for your support and dedication during this challenging time.

With best wishes to all,

Bryn Morris

Registrar & Secretary

University of Essex



June 26, 2020

VC’s all staff and student update

Dear staff and students,

As the Summer Term ends today, this will be my last weekly email, although I will continue to share updates with our community as and when necessary through ‘Essex Weekly’ and ‘Essex Spirit’. I want to take this opportunity to thank all staff – those working on campus, working from home and those furloughed – and all students for your support and flexibility in responding to COVID-19.

I am proud of the way that we have responded to the pandemic: by putting our courses on-line; and by adapting assessment and delivering the best possible experience for our students. All this has taken place at the same time as developing dual delivery for next year – and looking after 1,500 students who have remained on our Southend and Colchester campuses. Over 850 University staff have been furloughed as a result of the pandemic. I know that this has been difficult and your support and forbearance are much appreciated.

I also want to thank all our students for the adjustments that you have had to make in continuing your studies in truly exceptional circumstances. The impact of the pandemic has been profound, both on our work at the University and on each of us personally, and I want to express my thanks to you. This has also been a challenging time for our Students’ Union, with major disruption since March and a significant number of staff furloughed. I want to thank the SU sabbatical team for your leadership this year in a wide range of areas. Student-led activism has been vital in highlighting that we must do more to tackle racism. A working group report will be considered by Council on 9 July and taking action is a priority for us. I would also thank the SU for your continued commitment to partnership working with the University in these unprecedented times. Our usual celebration events over the summer term have either not taken place, or been switched on-line and this is an opportunity for me to say thank you.

As we enter the summer period, there remains much that we need to do, including a significant focus on conversion and other recruitment activities, curriculum re-design, on-going Masters’ and PhD supervision, and research. Preparations are now underway for a move back to on-campus working and there will also be important routine summer work to prepare our campuses for the start of next academic year. This is important work, but I urge you all to take a break in the coming months so that you can rest, recharge and prepare for Academic Year 2020-21.

Once again thank you for your support – it is much appreciated.

Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor



June 17, 2020

VC’s weekly email

Dear staff and students,

I want to take the opportunity of my weekly email to update you on work that is now underway to ensure that the experience of University staff and students lives up to our commitment to be an inclusive community.

On 3 June I acknowledged that racism exists within our University and that we can and must tackle this head on, both at a systemic level and in confronting the ways in which racism affects the everyday lives of Black students and staff. We have established a working group comprising students and staff, including representatives of the SU, and we have launched an initial listening phase that offers our community of students, staff and alumni a range of ways to share their experiences. As part of this work we are holding a Tackling Racism webinar on 18 June. If you would like to participate please register here.

An interim report from the working group setting out the themes that are emerging from the initial listening phase will be discussed by Council’s Resources Committee on 22 June and by Senate on 24 June. The final report following the end of this listening phase on 19 June will be considered by USG on 30 June and Council on 9 July and will also include proposed actions which the working group recommends are taken in order to tackle racism.

The University does not want to prejudge how the work should be taken forward until we have collected input through this initial listening phase – other than making a clear commitment that our next steps must be focused on ensuring we take action in a sustained way. We want to be held to account in making rapid progress to address racism where it exists on our campuses, and it is essential that what we do and how we do it has the support of Black students and staff.

In our University Strategy 2019-25 we have re-framed our priorities to emphasise our commitment to putting staff and students at the centre of everything we do. This commitment reflects our values of inclusion, partnership and community. We need to do more to ensure that we can understand, in a systematic way, the everyday lived experiences of the diverse  groups of students and staff that comprise our University.

We have to ensure the lived experience is a regular and consistent focus for each of us as individuals, and informs all our planning and decision-making processes. It is clear that we have been too reactive in the past and that we need to be more responsive to the needs of our diverse communities in the future. On 9 July, in addition to considering the report from the working group, Council will discuss our approach to diversity and inclusion in general and will be asked to agree proposed actions to ensure that we are positioned to do better in future.

I know that policies and processes alone do not create inclusive environments and this is why we want to take an approach which places as much emphasis on how people behave as it does on policy and process. If you have any ideas that you would like to share, please email us at diversity@essex.ac.uk

Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor



June 4, 2020

The world is changing, and so are we – but we are still Essex

Our Academic Registrar, Richard Stock, tells us more about our plans for enabling you to continue your studies in the 2020-21 academic year. 

As the main summer assessment period draws to a close, I wanted to update you on our plans for enabling you to continue your studies in the 2020-21 academic year. I know this remains a difficult time for everyone – especially our students. I hope you and your friends and family are staying safe. Please remember we are here for you and will continue to do all we can to support you.

We understand that your University experience is an important period in your life. We really care about keeping you safe and making sure your remaining time with us is amazing. Essex has always been a home for ground-breakers and change-makers; free thinkers and people who challenge established conventions, who find solutions to complex problems and who want to make a difference in the world around them.

We are not going to let the pandemic stop you from succeeding in your studies. Our Essex students and graduates are doing fantastic things to make the world a better place, wherever they are. We are proud of our brilliant Essex community, and look forward to welcoming you back next year to continue to be part of it. The world needs you now, more than ever: your ideas and talents, your creativity and courage. We will be here for you in October, ready to help you every step of the way.

What can you expect next year?

Over the last few weeks, we have been working hard to plan for next year. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world but we remain absolutely determined to provide you with the best Essex education and student experience we can while safeguarding your health and wellbeing. Our commitment to enabling you to continue and complete your studies is stronger than ever.

The uncertainty created by the pandemic means we are focusing on flexibility to fit your circumstances. We are redesigning how we teach, deliver your learning and enable you to undertake research to make sure that you continue to have a great Essex experience next year.

The approach we are adopting puts you at the heart of our thinking. It is based on ‘dual delivery’ to provide flexibility for you and to reduce uncertainty so you can plan with confidence. We want and expect you to return to your campus at the start of the year. If you are unable to due to restrictions created by COVID-19, our dual delivery plan means you can register and resume your studies on time wherever you are and can then join us when you are able.

Our approach has a number of core elements at its heart, which I have set out below:

  • The academic year will start on time in October. Courses will be taught in a way that blends face-to-face learning with a range of virtual lectures and other learning activities. We want and are planning for this to be on our campuses from the start of term. We will protect your health and wellbeing by managing the size of face-to-face activities and ensuring that we are using all our available space to support physical distancing when you are face-to-face. The flexibility we are building into our ‘dual-delivery’ teaching programme will mean that you can and should plan to return this October with confidence. This offers the best of both worlds: great face-to-face teaching whenever safe, including classes, tutorials and group work, supported by the latest digital learning tools and techniques. Our postgraduate research community will also continue to benefit from research support and supervision on campus whenever safe and through using a range of digital tools.
  • Minimising any disruption during the whole academic year. Our dual delivery approach will mean that, if necessary, we can move to off-campus delivery at any point during the academic year. This will ensure you can continue your studies uninterrupted, whatever the circumstances.
  • Ensuring the best student experience – because you are still Essex. We know that your time at Essex is not just about your learning. We know you want to have fun; to meet your friends and to get the absolute most from your time with us. We are working with our Departments, clubs and societies and with our Students’ Union to make sure that, even if you join us physically later on and things are a bit different this autumn, your experience will still be as good as it possibly can be.
  • Welcoming you back to your home from home. We know you may have many questions about travel to, and life on, our campuses this autumn. If you were planning to book University accommodation and, for any reason, you do not move into the accommodation that we offer to you, please be assured we won’t charge you any accommodation costs. If you need to book private accommodation, please do so as normal while seeking advice from your landlord or agent about their plans for managing your booking.

Your safety, and that of our staff, is paramount to us and you should not be concerned about life on our campuses. Over 1,500 students who were not able to return home throughout this pandemic have safely lived and learned on campus over the last few months. We have looked after them and they have looked after each other, so – whether you are studying with us on-campus or off-campus – you can be confident that Essex cares and we will always look after you, at your home from home.

Arrangements about teaching, learning and supervision will differ between Departments. In the coming weeks, your Department (or Departments if you are studying a joint Degree) will be providing more information for you about your course next year. Module enrolment will open on 25 June 2020. Your Department or School will be in contact with you very soon to help you with your choices and with details of the opportunities you and your fellow students will have to raise any questions and hear from your lecturers.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about your course or modules, please contact the professional services team in your Department or School. They are there for you so please do make the most of them. They have a wealth of knowledge and can help if you’re not sure how to contact somebody in the Department.

Our Student Services Hubs for Colchester, Southend and Loughton are operating phone, email and live chat facilities and can provide information on our range of mental health and emotional support services. The Students’ Union Advice service is available and operating remotely.

Finally, we know you will have many questions about your course and your plans for next year, which my email today will not have answered. Please do not worry, we understand. When we know more, we will share the answers with you as soon as we can. We will provide regular updates over the summer, including more information about student life next year. We will continue to publish information online through our dedicated COVID-19 webpages to support you as the answers become available. We are working with the Students’ Union to ensure the information we provide responds to the questions you have and the issues that are of most concern to you.

We are looking forward to welcoming you back to the Essex community next year.



June 3, 2020

VC’s all staff and student email

Against the backdrop of the global protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, on our campuses the University is rightly being challenged to do better in tackling racism. In recent days discussions in our staff forums and networks; engagement with students in our academic departments; and the powerful personal testimony of students, alumni and black officers from our Students’ Union have reinforced how much more there is for the University to do. Following discussion with the Chair of Council, the Vice-Chancellor has set out the University’s response in the message below.

Dear staff and students,

Against the backdrop of the global protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, I want to acknowledge the racism which exists within our University. Students and staff face racism on a daily basis, on our campuses and in our surrounding communities, and are rightly outraged. We can and must tackle this head on, both at a systemic level and in our everyday lives.

Student-led activism has been vital in highlighting racial injustice and the role of the Students’ Union is essential in confronting the challenge.

A start has been made. Work is underway to decolonise the curriculum and ensure we address differences in outcomes across different student groups; ensure our recruitment procedures are fair and inclusive; evaluate the effectiveness of our ‘Report and Support’ system; constantly review our unconscious bias training; and create better dialogue between all our communities and the University. We are also implementing a wide range of actions as we seek Race Equality Charter status. At the same time, we are working with the Students’ Union and local communities to create inclusive environments for our staff and students.

Important actions though these are, they have not proved to be adequate in responding to consistent requests for action from brave students and staff. We have not done enough.

We need to re-double our efforts to identify what more we can and should do. We want to listen, we want to be challenged and we want to be held to account. To this end, I would like to ask you to share your views through:

  • email to diversity@essex.ac.uk;
  • an on-line discussion forum to be launched next week;
  • a webinar which we will hold in the next fortnight;
  • staff may also want to engage with our existing staff forums.

In addition, the Students’ Union is asking for testimony and feedback from Black students, and, if you feel more comfortable sharing information with the Students’ Union, please email vpactivities@essex.ac.uk. The University can then work with the Students’ Union to ensure we have a comprehensive picture and to identify what needs to be done to tackle racism and systemic barriers to inclusion.

We will respond quickly with reports to Senate on 24 June and Council on 9 July with detailed actions.

I am sorry we have taken too long to recognise that we need to do more. With the help of our community this is what we must now do.

Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor


 

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