Students Staff
University of Essex

March 27, 2017

Engaging with our library users

If you’ve been in the Albert Sloman Library recently you’ll have noticed some big changes. These are part of a much wider strategy to engage more fully with students, staff and researchers and enable them to make the most of our extensive collections and resources.

Here, our Director of Library Services, Cathy Walsh, tells us more. 

Moving towards digital content

An image of Cathy Walsh.

Director of Library Services, Cathy Walsh.

As well as over a million printed items on our shelves the Library provides over 350,000 individual journal titles, 95% of which are accessible online.  This shows the extent to which the library has moved towards digital content and delivery while maintaining its traditional print collections.

Self service

We’ve made some significant changes to the the way we do things, including the introduction of self-service at the Albert Sloman Library. Our users now borrow their books using self- service kiosks and return them via an automatic returns unit which also sorts the books ready for re-shelving. More than 90% of library transactions at Colchester are now self service.

A new security system

Introducing RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology has allowed us to introduce a new security system, getting rid of bag checks as people leave the library. This has received a lot of positive feedback from our students!  This new approach means our staff now have more time to support students in other ways, including providing ‘roving’ support out on the library floors and brushing up on their information skills, enabling our students to make the best use of library resources for their studies.

Listening to our users

In October 2016 we abolished fines for all overdue books, unless they are requested by another library user, and we introduced unlimited borrowing so that people can take out as many items as they need. We also launched the new Library Advisory Group (LAG) which includes both staff and student representatives from all academic departments, Library staff, SU representatives and colleagues from other Professional Services. Any member of the university is welcome to come along if they have something to say about our services.

The LAG meets four times a year and meetings take the form of themed workshops, including an open forum where attendees can raise any library related issues. Themes this year have included ‘Time and Space’, looking at students’ views on study space and their preferred times for using the library, and ‘Simpler Fairer Quicker’, reviewing the changes we made at the start of the year and proposing further improvements .

See for yourself

We hope to see many more colleagues at future LAG meetings – in the meantime please do pop into the Albert Sloman Library  to see the changes for yourself.

You can also keep in touch with the library on Twitter and Facebook.

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


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