Students Staff
University of Essex

July 15, 2016

“There has never been a greater need for Essex graduates”

Our Graduation ceremonies were a wonderful chance to celebrate the success of our Graduates. Here you can read how our Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster addressed the biggest event of the year…

Students celebrating their success

Students celebrating their success

This graduation ceremony is the absolute high point of the academic year when our community comes together to celebrate. Each and every one of you has worked incredibly hard throughout your time at Essex – and knowing Essex students you have had more than a little fun along the way! I want to thank you for making the University of Essex the very special place that it is. Andon behalf of the University I would like to congratulate you on the successful award of your degrees.At Essex we are proud to say that you can find the world in one place – and we are delighted to be ranked 21st in the World for our international outlook in the Times Higher Education rankings. I am delighted that so many of you have travelled from across the globe to share this occasion with us.

For those of you graduating whose loved ones are unable make the journey today, this ceremony is being live-streamed online. So, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to those who are watching and listening from around the world . We are keen that you feel a part of this day and its sense of occasion – and I would like to ask the audience to give a wave, to welcome you to the graduation ceremony.

I would also like to take a moment for us to remember members of our University community not able to be with us today. They are in our thoughts.

Today, you are gaining a degree from a University that is equally committed to excellence in education and research.  We are ranked 2nd for overall student satisfaction in the United Kingdom and I am delighted that this is the third year in a row that we have been ranked in the top ten for student satisfaction by our students – it shows we are a University that really cares about our students. Overall, we are also ranked in the top twenty in the United Kingdom for the quality of our research and in the top five for the quality of our Social Science research.

Q-Step students

Q-Step students

We continue to grow and are amongst the top twenty universities for growth. We are continuing to invest in more staff and have invested 200 million pounds in new facilities across our three campuses to ensure that we are globally competitive.However, our most exciting achievements in the past year are yours. It is you, the Class of 2016, that has helped make this University the very special place it is.

This year over 1,300 students delivered more than 10,500 hours of voluntary service in our local communities, and we have double the number of students to 675 who have completed  their ‘Big Essex Award’ which recognises extra curricular activities alongside a University of Essex degree.

Our brilliant International Students Association organised ‘One World Essex’ to celebrate our rich cultural diversity – and this included a major celebration of Chinese New Year and Holi – the Hindu festival of colours.

During this year our Societies Guild helped 140 student societies with over 3,200 members do amazing things. For example our students organised support for refugee families coming to Colchester, and travelled to Calais to offer support to refugees in the Jungle camp. We have increased by nearly 2,000 the number of students who are active sport club members and we won 11 British University Sports Championships league titles. And topping the bill, our amazing women’s team won the Basketball England National Cup final – and this year our clubs raised nearly 4,000 pounds for various charitable causes.

As your Vice-Chancellor, I am deeply proud of your many achievements.

Graduation marks the end of one part of your life and the start of the next. Some of you will be starting jobs, however some of you may be considering postgraduate study in October, and we are very keen to welcome you back.

If you have not decided what is next for you, our Employability and Careers team is here to help you every step of the way. You can contact them outside today, or over the coming days, weeks and months.

They are dedicated to providing individual support and advice on finding career opportunities, including paid graduate-level internships that are available exclusively to this year’s graduates. Please don’t hold back – they are here to help you get a first step on the career ladder.

Honorary Graduate Obiageli Ezekwesili

Honorary Graduate Obiageli Ezekwesili

As you graduate you will be part of an extended global family. You will join a glittering array of graduates from around the world including: Oscar Arias former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner; the Speaker of the British House of Commons, Jon Bercow; Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, the current and first women speaker of the Bangladeshi Parliament; Alison Steadman one of the most popular actresses in Britain, Chris Pissarides the 2010 Economics Nobel prize winner and Carry Somers fashion designer and founder of the global movement Fashion Revolution.

This year more than 2,500 of our past students came along to some fantastic alumni events we hosted in Europe, the United States, and in South America and Asia. It has never been easier to remain in contact wherever you are in the world, with the lifelong friends you have made at Essex.

But please, keep in touch with us, too. Our staff members really care about you. We are interested to hear about your future plans and successes and we will continue to support you in whatever way we can.

Since our foundation, the University of Essex has been committed to being an inclusive, cosmopolitan and global community where students and staff come from more than 130 countries – and you can find the world in one place. Your time at University has developed your skills and knowledge, but we hope it has also helped you to develop an understanding of yourself and who you are; of what you can achieve, and what you can change for the better.

As you start a new chapter in your life there has never been a greater need for Essex graduates, so please go out into the world and make it a better place.

Thank you.

July 12, 2016

Humans move – but refugees are special

Since its foundation the University has been committed to inclusivity, to being a global community and to championing human rights. Professor Geoff Gilbert of the School of Law is a former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Refugee Law who has worked with, and advised the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Here he considers the status of refugees and how we can strengthen the protection afforded to vulnerable people across the globe.

Professor Geoff Gilbert, School of Law

Professor Geoff Gilbert, School of Law

The history of human life on earth is one of migration, from homo sapiens first appearance in the Rift Valley about 200,000 years ago to its occupation of every conceivable living space on the planet today. Throughout those millennia, a primary motivation for movement has been to seek a better life and that aspect of human nature has not changed in the intervening years. So why are refugees accorded a special status and how should governments respond to the massive increase in human movement seen in the last few years?

Current figures suggest that there are around 65.8 million individuals of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, not all of those persons are refugees, maybe less than one-third. All have been forcibly displaced in some way, although it does not include all forcibly displaced persons: those who have had to move due to global warming and climate change, whether sudden- or slow-onset, an additional 15 million or so, do not fall within the mandate of UNHCR, even in its extended form. There is a need to address this growing number of persons who have had to migrate, but, as the Nansen Initiative has made clear, a special regime is required. UNHCR deals with forcible displacement where there is some human intervention.

Refugees and other forcibly displaced persons of concern

The 1951 Convention relating to the status of Refugees provides the international framework for the protection of refugees, that is, persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution for any of five specified grounds and, who are outside their country of nationality and who are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country (or, if stateless, their country of habitual residence). Refugee status is, and always has been, temporary.

According to Article 1C.5, refugee status ceases if circumstances in their country of nationality change such that they can no longer claim the need for protection. At that point, a refugee can be returned: before that, the principle on non-refoulement in Article 33.1 prevents return, a principle that international law imposes on all states, not just parties to the 1951 Convention.

Moreover, because a refugee cannot avail themselves of the protection of their country of nationality, UNHCR has been given the unique mandate of providing international protection under its 1950 Statute. That mandate also extends to asylum seekers, those persons seeking refugee status who are still awaiting a final determination. UNHCR’s protection mandate also covers, though, conflict driven internally displaced persons.

Protection and solutions

Whether an individual has been forcibly displaced across an international border or is still within the borders of their country of nationality or habitual residence, they require protection, most obviously from return, but also where they now find themselves. That can best be achieved through registration and documentation which then provide the gateway to other rights.

Given that the modal average time spent as a displaced person is around twenty years, the refugee, asylum seeker or an internally-displaced person will need access to education, employment, health care and legal services, all rights provided for in the 1951 Convention or in the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

If allowed access to schools and universities or the job market, that better enables the displaced person to be ready to voluntarily repatriate or return, to locally integrate into the community where they now find themselves or to be resettled in a third country or elsewhere in their own state. Ongoing solutions facilitate durable and sustainable solutions. To further this objective, the UN’s development actors need to be involved from the outset of the displacement to incorporate displaced persons within the state’s planning.

What about the rest?

The Statutory mandate lays down that the High Commissioner’s role shall be non-political and humanitarian. S/he shall liaise with the Secretary-General, but the High Commissioner is not part of the UN Secretariat, unlike the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for instance. There are positive and negative consequences, with options for fresh developments that would enhance refugee protection and that of all other migrants.

UNHCR sits in Geneva, which maintains the High Commissioner’s non-political character and independence. However, it also means that displaced persons are not at the forefront of the thinking and planning of the Secretary-General, the General Assembly, the Security Council and the UN organs that sit in New York.

The position has improved, but there are still gaps. And even if the High Commissioner were to be fully integrated, as was stated at the outset, that would still leave 15 million people displaced by global warming and climate change outside the system and all the other migrants who were not forcibly displaced at all – people being trafficked, people simply seeking a better life.

There are special regimes for refugees and internally-displaced people that need to be preserved, and the High Commissioner for Refugees has that mandate, but a Special Adviser on Human Movement sitting in the Secretariat, keeping displacement at the forefront of New York thinking and planning and liaising directly with UNHCR so that its voice does not go unheard, provides one way of responding to current developments without undermining existing protection regimes.

Professor Geoff Gilbert, School of Law.