Students Staff
University of Essex

June 15, 2018

Fostering Inclusion at the University of Essex

Ilaria Boncori is our Deputy Dean Education (Faculty of Humanities) and Chair of the Essex LGBT Alliance.

Ilaria Boncori is Chair of the Essex LGBT Alliance. She tells us about the Pronoun Awareness Initiative, which aims to raise awareness about the use of pronouns and the gender neutral options.

One of the values at the very core of our University is inclusivity. As Chair of the Essex LGBT Alliance (ELGBTA), I am delighted that our University has a genuine commitment to engagement and promotion of equality, diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization. At Essex, we want all our members – students and staff – as well partners and visitors, to feel welcome and be treated with equal respect and dignity at all times.

Although the pathway to equality is long and never simple, we have implemented a number of actions over the last few years in order to enhance the inclusivity of our policies and practices. Of course, our return to the Stonewall Top 100 employers earlier this year is a reflection of this commitment, but we don’t want to simply comply with legislation or follow others in the introduction of good practice – we want to lead the way with our ethos, behaviour and mind frame, whether it comes with an award or not. As a University we strive to create an environment that fosters the development of tomorrow’s leaders in equality, diversity and inclusion.

With this values-led approach in mind, the SU together with the ELGBTA, the LGBT+ Allies and the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team at the University of Essex are launching a Pronoun Awareness Initiative to foster inclusion and raise awareness about the use of pronouns and the gender neutral options.

There are many things that can be done to avoid the marginalisation of transgender and gender non-conforming people through pronoun awareness. For example, have you ever used non-gendered pronouns such as Ze and They (used in a singular meaning)? Or have you asked someone what pronoun they want you to use for them instead of assuming their gender identity? Making one’s pronoun explicit in meeting introductions, avoiding gendered language in paperwork and in everyday practices, as well as paying attention to people’s pronoun badges/ lanyards/ bracelets, are all simple ways of being more inclusive. One of our recommendations is also for members of the University of Essex to have an explicit mention of one’s pronouns in signatures (e.g. pronouns: they/their/them; or he/his/him).

Karen Bush, our Head of Equality and Diversity.

Karen Bush, our Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion says ‘we are absolutely committed to promoting an environment in which people of all genders feel included and welcome. Using gender-neutral language in University policies and communications is one positive thing we have started to do and raising awareness about the need to avoid making assumptions about an individual’s gender is another step in the right direction. Thinking about how we use pronouns is a small step we can all take but a really important one. Using the wrong pronoun for someone can lead to them feeling excluded and can negatively affect their mental health and wellbeing. That is not something I want for any member of our community’.

Other activities that promote gender inclusion are our current work on the development of advice and guidance on ‘Transitioning at Work’ for individual members of staff, managers and HR staff which links to existing policy and has wellbeing at its core; the establishment of an informal mentoring scheme for LGBT+ staff and students; the creation of the LGBT+ Toolkit for inclusivity in teaching and learning practices and the publication of the edited volume LGBT+ Perspectives – The University of Essex Reader.

Interested in contributing to our Equality, diversity and Inclusion agenda? Email diversity@essex.ac.uk



Area reviews – helping develop our University Strategy 2019-2025

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Designate, Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, is leading on the development of our University Strategy 2019-25. The process has involved consultation with our staff and students. Here she gives us a progress report.

Professor Lorna Fox O'Mahony, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate)

Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate)

The process so far

We are now five months into the consultation process for the development of our next University Strategy. Many of you have already engaged with the process and contributed comments and ideas through a range of events and activities as part of our University-wide open consultation. These have included: Education and Research themed workshops, open meetings and focus groups, two dedicated Senior Staff Conferences, and discussions in more formal foras including University Steering Group and Council Away Days. In the coming weeks, we will discuss emerging priorities with Research and Education Committees, and share our direction of travel with external stakeholders through our Annual Meeting of Court. Our students have participated in all of these activities, and through additional meetings, to make sure that our thinking is informed by student voices from the outset and that we connect the University’s Strategy with the development of the Students’ Union’s own Strategic Plan.

All of these discussions, and the ideas that continue to be gathered through the University Strategy consultation site hosted on Moodle, are contributing to emerging themes and direction of travel as we develop our vision and priorities for the University of Essex 2019-2025.

The role of the area reviews

One of the mechanisms we have used to gather ideas from all members of the University has been the four area reviews. Throughout the academic year, staff from each of the three Faculties and from Professional Services have been involved in discussing and putting forward their ideas and suggestions for priorities for their area, and for the University as a whole, from 2019-25. The area review reports that captured key outcomes from all of this hard work were presented and discussed by the University Steering Group at a dedicated meeting on 24 May.

The consultation is still open to our staff and students. Log on to Moodle to take part.

And they’ve been enlightening. Full of new ideas…big and small, of observations from within the University, and drawing learning gathered from others both within the higher education sector and beyond. Each Faculty review has focussed on both Education and Research and considered emerging trends across their disciplines, gaps in provision, opportunities and challenges, interdisciplinary bridgeheads, and has aimed to set out a clear and compelling vision for the future for their ‘area’. Whilst each is shaped by the distinctive nature of the disciplines they cover, they share a commitment to creativity, a scale of ambition, a realistic recognition of the challenges but a clear appetite for growth and enhancement. The Professional Services review sets out the distinctive and vital contribution that professional services make to the success of the University’s mission of excellence in education and research. The Professional Services Area Review has articulated an ambition to deliver transformative capabilities, to enable transformative communities and to provide transformative services to the University, while achieving economies of scale in the context of growth.

The four area review documents are now on the Moodle site and I’d invite you to have a read and to contribute your comments and suggestions to the ongoing discussion.

What next…

We’ve come some way in gathering the views and suggestions of our community but there is still plenty of opportunity for input as we continue to challenge ourselves to look ahead to 2025, to focus on the big strategic questions and to reflect on all the contributions provided by our community so far. The open consultation will continue throughout the summer and until the end of September, while focus groups begin the work of refining emerging priorities and developing our vision for 2025. The first draft of the University Strategy will be produced early in the Autumn term, and we will continue to invite comments on drafts as they emerge, as well as seeking the views of our broader external communities and stakeholders. As we work towards our goal of final approval by Senate and Council in summer 2019, we will also begin to plan the development the Education and Research strategies and the supporting strategies and sub strategies in academic year 2019-20.

So…wonderful progress to date…but still lots to do!



June 7, 2018

Find out more about our PVC Research, Professor Christine Raines

Professor Christine Raines has been appointed as our Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research. Here she tells us more about her work, her role as PVCR and her priorities for the year ahead.

Professor Christine Raines is our Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research.

Her work on increasing plant proteins was recently published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal. Read more about it on our news page.

You’ve been with us at Essex since 1988. Has your field of research changed in that time?

In the area of plant biology, the major differences I would note are the scale and speed with which data can be generated. For example when I started analysing plant DNA sequences to obtain a single gene sequence could take a period of months and this was a respectable achievement. Now entire genomes with ~ 30,000 genes can be sequenced in days. The challenge now is managing and analysing the volume of data created.

We used to hear a lot about genetically modified crops, but that field seems to have gone quiet. What’s happening in the field right now?

Genetically modified crops is very much a live area of research. In many countries across the world, including the US, transgenic crops are grown widely including staples such as Maize and Soy Bean. Although in Europe there is a reluctance to endorse GM crops, for now there appears to be less open public resistance, but it is still not possible to grow transgenic crops in Europe for commercial purposes. The group from Essex has grown transgenic wheat in the UK for experimental purposes and although we encountered little or no resistance the entire process was highly regulated.

Who are your research or biology heroes? And why?

Not sure I have a single research hero – but people that spring to mind are Marie Curie – discoverer of radium. Her sheer determination and hard work were impressive and she was awarded the Nobel Prize on two occasions, once for physics and the other chemistry. Rosalind Franklin because she was instrumental in the discovery of DNA but only more recently has her significant input been recognised. But I think as a plant biologist I would have to have Gregor Mendel at the top of my list as his work on pea plants founded the study of genetics.

You’ve been holding the role of PVCR for some months, what does it involve?

The PVCR role is about enabling, encouraging and supporting our staff to do the most exciting, world leading research possible which can have benefits for society. I work very closely with colleagues on the University Steering Group as a member of the senior leadership team and also with the Research and Enterprise Office. My day to day job sees me working with academics and professional services staff across the University developing ways to  facilitate our research.

What role will you play in the formulation of our next University Strategy 2019 -2015?

Our DVC designate Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony is leading on the development of the new strategic plan and my role is to work with her to develop the aspects of the plan relating to research.

What do you think the University of Essex does best – and what needs work?

I believe the University is very good at making staff and students feel as though they are part of a community. As PVC research I would like to look to ways that would enable staff to have more time and space for research and also to work with the Students’ Union to provide more opportunities to engage our students, both UG and PG, with our research.

Tell us something about yourself that we can’t learn from your staff profile.

I left School at 16 and worked as a technician in a school for seven years before going on to University to study for a degree in Agricultural Botany at Glasgow.



May 24, 2018

Creating a healthy university for all of us

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty, updates us on the work he has been leading, to create and sustain a healthy University of Essex. 

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty.

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty.

We published our Healthy University Sub-Strategy last year, deliberately focusing on both staff and students, ensuring that we take a whole university approach to well-being. There is a greater emphasis on raising the baseline of well-being, as well as on providing additional services and support for our students and staff.

The Healthy University Sub-Strategy underpins the values set out in the People Supporting Strategy, and promotes a positive concept of health and well-being across three key themes: Mental Well-being, Physical Well-Being andFood and Mood. One year on, here is a short review of some of the actions delivered.

Student actions are being coordinated by Student Life in Academic Section and the Students Union (SU) itself.

The SU has been running one of its largest campaigns this May – around exams. It is a stressful time for many, and the SU has exam angels offering water and fruit immediately prior to  exams, and taking a tea/coffee trolley around the library – not only to offer a friendly drink, but the opportunity for a conversation.

A new approach to wellbeing and inclusivity is being developed in consultation with staff with a view to launch from August 2018. The vision for the new service involves greater connectivity between the Students’ Union and the University’s support services, and shared initiatives to support both staff and students. More information about this new service is in the blog by our Head of Student Support, Angela Jones.

Here are a few actions and outcomes to show progress towards becoming a healthier university:

  1. Some 400 staff and students have now been trained as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA). There are plans to develop a MHFA Listening Network to provide additional support to our staff and students whilst on campus. In addition, workshops on Building Resilience in Periods of Change are being delivered across the University.
  2. Healthy University wellbeing sessions are being run on Thursdays 1-2pm in the Hex, including for Mindfulness and Chair-Based Yoga and Movement. These sessions were well attended, with positive feedback from those who had not previously engaged with physical activity/well-being sessions. During this Summer term the focus is on healthy and strong backs, with a workshop being delivered by a local fitness instructor and rehabilitation therapist.
  3. Stress and Resilience Risk Assessments are being facilitated by the Occupational Health and ER team with each Department and  Section. These meetings enable Departments and Sections to identify stressors and determine what actions and control measures can be implemented to reduce or eliminate sources of pressure and to create enabling environments to allow students and staff to flourish.
  4. Essex Food has created a ‘mindful menu’ available in a number of outlets to encourage healthy eating. This includes the creation of more vegan and vegetarian items on menus.
  5. Referrals to Occupational Health are being made at a much earlier stage; allowing pro-active interventions to take place when the support is needed, enabling staff to remain in work and return from absence earlier.
  6. The Well-being Workout programme enables staff members to build on their physical and mental strength during an eight-week course and continues to enhance health and well-being.
  7. Stair stickers have been installed in the Gateway Building at Southend with motivational messages to encourage individuals to take the stairs instead of the lift.
  8. Nutritional Talks have been popular with presentations on ‘Healthy Meals’, ‘Hydrate and Feel Great’, ‘Supplements – Scam or Saviour’ and ‘Feed your Brain’. Attendance at these events has been well supported, with feedback that individuals now feel they can make positive changes to their diet following the sessions.
  9. A number of Healthy University Champions have been trained across the University to assist with the promotion of the Healthy University Sub-Strategy interventions. The continuation and growth of this programme in every Department and Section is taking shape, meeting our aim to increase the knowledge and awareness of the Sub-Strategy.
Having a walking meeting can be one way of building more activity into your working day.

Having a walking meeting can be one way of building more activity into your working day.

There are activities that each of us can do to improve our own well-being, as well as the well-being of others. Here are four actions that could help the whole University become a healthier place for living and learning:

  • Build more activity into your daily routine: take the stairs instead of the lift, park a bit further away from your place of work, or cycle and walk when you can;
  • Use the outdoors for green exercise: take a break at lunchtime to go for a walk, make your next meeting a walking meeting;
  • Connecting: visit a café or other public space and spend some time with a colleague or friend; try out one of the new healthier food choices;
  • Look out for others: take time out of your day to connect with colleagues.


May 18, 2018

Building on our Athena SWAN Bronze Award

Athena Swan Bronze AwardI am delighted that our extensive work to promote gender equality at Essex has led to the renewal of our Athena SWAN Bronze Award.

Established by the Equality Challenge Unit, the Athena SWAN charter has become a vitally important way to recognise and celebrate good practice in advancing gender equality across the UK. I am incredibly proud of this success because according to Athena SWAN our Bronze Award recognises we have created a “solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and developing an inclusive culture that values all staff.”

Planning our next steps

Now we are determined to go further and we will be looking very carefully at the feedback from Athena SWAN, so that we understand our strengths and weaknesses to identify further steps that we can take to make our culture more inclusive.  In the meantime, we will be working in earnest on the actions we’re already committed to as part of our Bronze Award.

Our progress so far

When we developed our University Strategic Plan in 2012-3, we were clear that we would not be able to achieve our goals without putting equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of everything we do – and we knew that we would need to have a sustained focus on this over a number of years to create an inclusive culture for our staff and students.

In terms of gender equality there are a number of actions we have taken that I am particularly proud of:

  • The appointment of the University’s first female Chancellor in 2014, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti. Shami was a great role model during her time as our Chancellor
  • The Women of the Future Scholarships Appeal raised over £500,000 and has enabled 30 inspirational women from across the world to undertake a Masters degree at Essex.
  • We have set out specific changes to tackle issues of workplace culture and to change our recruitment processes and practices. These include: using positive action statements in all recruitment material; embedding unconscious bias training across the University; running academic promotion workshops and talent development programmes; encouraging staff to engage in informal networks; encouraging flexible working; putting in place career and peer mentoring schemes; identifying and raising the profile of role models; and putting in place robust processes to manage any variations to salary.
  • Having undertaken equal pay audits, we are confident staff at our University, regardless of gender, receive equal pay for work of equal value.
  • Five out of 11 of our senior leadership team are women and 13 out of 25 of our governing body are women. We have increased our proportion of female professors by 5.7 per cent in the past five years to 29.8 per cent, which is 5.2 per cent above the sector average, and increased our proportion of female academic staff over the past four years by 2 per cent to 42 per cent in 2016-17.
  • We are also starting to see a positive impact of some of the actions that were included in our 2013 Athena SWAN Bronze Action Plan. This includes an increase in the proportion of women on our Senate from 27% in 2014-15 to 41.6% in 2016-17.

You can support our drive for equality

Last year, we approved a proposal that all Departments should apply for an Athena SWAN award by the end of 2019-20 and we have recently introduced a requirement for all members of University committees to complete unconscious bias training – and in the light of the recent gender pay gap audit we want to ensure we tackle this head on too.

As we work on developing our next Strategic Plan, we want to build on our achievements over the last five years and to continue to ensure our commitment to inclusivity is embedded in all that we do. This essential work will be difficult but it is not impossible and your support in taking these issues forward will make a significant difference to the progress that we need to make.



May 3, 2018

Thank you Essex future-casters 2025

Our online consultation hub is waiting to hear from you!

Our online consultation hub is waiting to hear from you!

Thank you to everyone who attended our series of future-casting University Strategy consultation events.

Each of the events, at each of our thriving campuses, was well attended by both staff and students. Across the sessions we had more than 550 wishes left on the wishing trees.

Thank you again to everyone who was generous enough to share their exciting and innovative ideas for the future of our University.

We took some great photos from each of our events. Take a look:

Southend Campus event photos

Colchester Campus event photos

Loughton Campus event photos

Unable to attend the events in person?

Fear not! We want to capture your ideas for the future too, so we are launching our online consultation hub on Moodle.

Simply log on using your usual Essex ID and password and take part in our online journey. From our fierce past, to our inclusive present right through to our innovative future, the site will guide you through our process for developing the University Strategy and show how you can submit your thoughts, ideas, comments and suggestions for the University’s work between 2019 and 2025.

Log on to Moodle now to get started.

Need some inspiration?

Take a look at some of our community members talking about their visions for 2025 in these videos.

Want to get in touch?

Questions and queries can be directed to our dedicated email account: sp2025@essex.ac.uk

Whatever your role, wherever your campus, whatever your area of expertise, research or study – the future of Essex needs you!

 

Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate)



April 20, 2018

Are you ready to look into the future?

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, (Designate) Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, today launches our University Strategy 2019 -2025 consultation. Here she tells us more about the events designed to get all us thinking of the future and sharing our big ideas for Essex 2025.

Professor Lorna Fox O'Mahony, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate)

Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate)

We all plan for the future. We plan our summer holidays, we plan weddings and birthday parties because the future is already on its way and is best enjoyed when we act to shape it around what really matters to us most.

Planning for the future of our University is no different. We know that education and research really matter to us, and we’re already working hard to understand and navigate the disruptors and opportunities coming over the horizon. Our plans will help to shape a future in which our University will continue to thrive, putting students at the centre of our thinking and doing research that improves people’s lives.

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, explains more in this short video.

What will the students of the future need from their Essex education to prepare them for their future lives, future careers and future learning? In an age of digital communication, how will our campus-based University support human interaction and belonging? How will our education and research be shaped by our commitments to inclusion, community and well-being? How will our researchers identify and address the questions that really make a difference in improving people’s lives?

We want you to share your ideas to help form our next University Strategy, 2019-25.

Come along to one of three consultation events and take part in fun activities designed to get your futurist minds whirring and your ideas for the future flowing.

At each event, you’ll explore our past, reflect on our present and build a vision for our shared future.

  • Learn about the four pillars that underpin our ethos.
  • Watch videos that will give you a glimpse of the future.
  • Think about your future at Essex.
  • Share your thoughts and ideas with others.
  • Make a wish for the future of the University.

All our staff and students are invited to drop in to one of three events:

  • Southend Campus – Tuesday 24 April – the Forum Share Space (TF.2.59), 11am-3pm
  • Colchester Campus – Wednesday 25 April – The Hex, 10am-4pm
  • Loughton Campus – Friday 27 April – Corbett Theatre, 1-2pm and 6-7pm

Refreshments will be provided.

Whatever your role, wherever your campus, whatever your area of expertise, research or study – the future of Essex needs you!

Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate)



March 9, 2018

Celebrating our motivational, empowering and inspirational women

Monica Illsley, Chief of Staff at Essex and the University’s Gender Equality Champion, presented this year’s Motivational, Empowering and Inspirational Awards as part of International Women’s Day.

Motivational, empowering and inspirational award winners

Celebrating our motivational, empowering and inspirational staff and students

I was delighted to have the chance to be part of this week’s celebration in The Hex organised by our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team and to meet so many of our incredible female staff and students.

The nominations for awards from our community really demonstrate the amazing impact of women across the University. They show how individuals are inspiring colleagues, giving others the confidence to succeed, making a difference through volunteering, providing great leadership, and leading by example.

Our event came within the context of this year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme: #PressforProgress. With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away, this clearly remains an area where there is still so much more to do.

I think that many of us simply become accustomed to how things are and, with busy lives to lead, we can sometimes stop questioning and challenging assumptions and behaviours. I’m fortunate enough to have a 16-year-old daughter who doesn’t let me forget about the need for action. I am constantly amazed by the extent to which she and her friends see inequality around them, and really feel that need to Press for Change.

I’m also fortunate to have been at the University for a long time both as a student and as a member of staff. One of the reasons I’ve stayed so long is the sense of fairness, of community and of mutual respect that I feel exists here. It’s who we are and what makes us special.

We all need role models – people who inspire and motivate us and I’ve certainly been fortunate in having them over my many years at Essex. Two stand out: my first manager who really believed in me and gave me confidence in my abilities; and more recently, our last Chancellor, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, who I feel incredibly privileged to have worked with. Her mantra of: “aspire to be anyone’s equal but no-one’s superior” is a powerful values statement that I think really resonates with who we are at Essex.

Our students are also a constant source of inspiration to me and a reminder of the power of the next generation. The wonderful current President of the Students’ Union, Zoe Garshong, is a fantastic example but there’s a student who has really made an impression on me in recent months and I’m delighted to see her receiving an award this year. This first-year government student has completely on her own initiative designed, planned and delivered a project to celebrate diversity and inclusivity at the University. She has led a ‘Love has no Labels’ project which will culminate in a screening of our community sharing their views on inclusivity and diversity. Having been postponed due to the snow, it is now happening on Monday 12 March from 2-4pm on Square 3 so please drop by to see it and show your support if you can.

All of those receiving awards this week haven’t done whatever they’re being recognised for in order to get an award but I think it’s wonderful that our community finds a way to make sure that you know that what you do has been noticed and appreciated by others. And is valued by the University.

Congratulations and thank you to all our worthy award winners:

Liz Austin, Nur Dinie Binti Mohd Fadil, Ilaria Boncori, Karen Bush, Katharine Cockin, Louise Corti, Camille Cronin, Angela Eldridge, Maria Fasli, Katie Finnimore, Hannah Gott, Helen Ivory, Bev Jackson, Ella Jeffries, Emilia Ilieva,Tina Lewis-McGlynn, Rowena Macaulay, Lesley Monk, Vanessa Nolan, Silke Paulmann, Mariem Shahzad, Emyliyana Suhaimi, Rae Waddon, Tess Wagstaffe, Belinda Waterman, Hannah Whiting and Rachel Wier.



March 8, 2018

Expanding our campuses to accommodate our growing community.

Chris Oldham, our Director of Estates and Campus Services, tells us about the exciting new projects that are springing up across our University estate.

Our University is growing. With increasing student and staff numbers, we have a host of capital projects either under construction or in development; all of which are designed to help us deliver additional space and facilities to meet the needs of our growing population.

stem 300x200

Our new Science Technology Engineering and Maths centre on Square 1 will be ready to move into this summer.

The STEM centre will transform Square 1 into a dedicated science square with new versatile collaborative learning spaces and interdisciplinary teaching facilities including a 180 seat wet lab and a 200 seat IT-rich exploratory learning space. This new building will be ready to move into over the summer of 2018 and will be operational by September 2018.Take a look at the latest site photos on flickr.

The Innovation Centre is set to open its doors in 2019, enhancing the established business community on the Knowledge Gateway and joining more than 20 small businesses at Parkside Office Village. The centre is at the heart of our Knowledge Gateway masterplan, in which we envisage 2,000 people working there in the future, drawn not just by the excellent business accommodation, but also the business and academic support and on-campus resources and facilities provided by our leading research-intensive university. The Innovation Centre will enhance our commitment to linking our academic and research activities to our corporate business.

Our Innovation Centre

Our Innovation Centre

Redevelopment of student facilities on our Loughton campus. The extension of the main building at Hatfield Campus is under construction and will house a larger refectory and a combined IT and Library hub.

The Essex Sport Arena, our new, competition standard sports facility, enjoyed its official opening in January, attended by gymnast Max Whitlock and our own Chancellor The Rt Hon John Bercow. The new facility, the biggest of its kind in the county, provides space for 12 badminton courts, three basketball courts, three netball courts or five volley ball courts as well as providing a new home for our Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Science department.

The Copse, our new Colchester campus student accommodation, is set to provide 643 en-suite rooms and studios, just a short walk from the heart of Colchester Campus.

Developments in the pipeline include:

  • More teaching centres to increase our teaching space and an academic building to provide a new home for one of our largest academic departments.
  • Expansion of Parkside Office Village to accommodate more business tenants.
  • Innovation Centre Phase 2 designs are progressing. Expansion of the site will create further space for business start-ups.
  • A feasibility study has been commissioned on a new multi-decked car park.
  • Site consolidation on our Loughton campus will allow us to move out of Roding House and Unit 4.
  • With the growth in student numbers, we are investigating possibilities for more new student accommodation. We are aiming to build a further 1,100 bed spaces in the coming  years.


February 19, 2018

Why universities need to pay more to protect USS pension rights

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster,  sets out our own position relating to the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

Is there an alternative to the strike hitting universities?

The overwhelming vote by UCU members for 14 days of strike action in 61 universities indicates the strength of feeling about the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). For many of us it is the most important issue that we have ever had to confront that relates to our pay – and it will have consequences not just for current academic and professional services staff, but future generations as well.

So how have we got to this position?

During last year’s consultation on the future funding of USS, we held an open meeting with our staff to help inform the response the Council of the University of Essex would make to the consultation on the future of the pension scheme. This input from staff led to our University Council adopting three key positions. These remain unchanged and we continue to be an advocate for them.

  • We believe high quality pension arrangements are a significant part of the benefits available to our employees.
  • We feel the USS Trustees are being overly prudent in their assumptions, which will potentially undervalue assets and overestimate potential liabilities.
  • At Essex we are prepared to consider increasing employer contributions to the scheme, alongside increases in employee contributions, in order to sustain critical features of USS, including defined benefits.

Adopting these positions will safeguard key elements of USS and avoid a highly disruptive strike that places staff who are members of UCU in the agonising position of balancing their support for student learning, with their commitment to their trade union and a legitimate desire to be a member of a high quality pension scheme.

To date we have failed to win over most universities to our view, with 109 employers stating in their responses to the UUK survey that they would be unwilling to increase employer contributions beyond the current level of 18% of salary –  with only seven indicating that they were prepared to pay more into USS to safeguard a high quality pension scheme. Sometimes principles cost money.

In addition, a majority of universities support the USS Trustees in introducing additional elements of prudence into their valuation methodology to reduce the risk of employers having to make additional contributions to the scheme to safeguard benefits should circumstances require this at some point in the future.

As a result, we now have proposals on the table which would see no further benefits being accrued in the defined benefit sections of the USS – neither the final salary nor the career revalued sections. Instead, all contributions will go into a defined contribution section termed the USS Investment Builder.

The net impact is a significant reduction in the certainty with which USS members can plan for their retirements. This is bad news for current USS members; as 960 professors have indicated in an open letter to THE [18/01/2018] it will further reduce the attractiveness of the UK as a destination in the global market for talent; and it poses a significant risk to our ability to attract new entrants into the academy.

There is still time to find common ground that will avoid a costly strike that will be painful and disruptive for all sides. UCU members at Essex have told me they are heartbroken to have to take strike action which they now feel is the only option left to them to express their dismay – and our students have told us that the impact of strike action on their learning experience is a source of consternation to them, at an absolutely critical time in the academic year.

We know our staff value the defined benefit component of USS and to retain it we may need to accept this will need to operate at a reduced level, to ensure the scheme is more sustainable and affordable than at present. Likewise university employers must step up to the plate and commit to increasing employer contributions to the scheme, alongside increases in employee contributions, to safeguard what staff tell us is one of the most important elements of the current scheme.

USS is a nationally negotiated scheme and we are bound by the majority view. Whilst the ‘Essex position’ places us in a minority of employers, we will continue to advocate the goal of safeguarding a high quality and sustainable pension scheme for USS members and use our position on the USS Institutions’ Advisory Panel to do so.

The shared interest of all stakeholders should place an obligation on all parties to look to find imaginative and sustainable ways of delivering this goal – principled compromise is the answer.

You can also read this blog on the Times Higher Education website.


 

Older Posts »