Students Staff
University of Essex

June 30, 2017

Showcasing our achievements – Annual Meeting 2017

The Annual Meeting is a highlight of our year and I am delighted to welcome our friends and supporters – you are absolutely integral to the success of the University. The Annual Meeting is an opportunity for us to showcase the achievements of this amazing University, which carries the county name, the University founded ‘by,’ ‘in’ and ‘for’ the people of Essex. What a year it has been.

A change in context

Our Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster described the achievements of 2017 in his annual speech.

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, described the achievements of the academic year 2016-17 in his annual speech.

I would like to start by mentioning the wider environment in which the University is operating. In April, the first major reform of Higher Education in over 10 years, the Higher Education and Research Act, became law and this will have far reaching consequences for all UK universities. By March 2019 the UK will have left the European Union and we have a minority Conservative Government.

As a dual intensive university – equally committed to excellence in education and research, the context in which we pursue our mission is clearly very different from 12 months ago. But our mission and values remain unchanged:

  • We remain committed to contributing to society through excellence in education and research, locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.
  • And, our commitment to inclusivity and internationalist values is absolutely undiminished.

Over the last 12 months we have been working hard to make sure that the University not only survives, but thrives in this new environment. We have done this through focusing on our values and our mission and seeking new opportunities wherever we can find them.

Investing for the future

In response to record levels of interest for student places, we continue to invest in expanding our staff and our facilities.  I am delighted that we have seen a 24% increase in applications and have grown from 9,500 students in 2012 to 14,000 in 2016 and this year for the first time we exceeded 20,000 applications for 4,400 undergraduate places at Essex.

To support this demand, we have recruited 152 new academic staff over the last three years, and we are on track to double – to just over 600 – the number of research-active staff we submit to the next government led research assessment exercise. We have made an equally impressive investment in our professional services – appointing 300 new staff focused on supporting the University’s expansion. Our Council has agreed to significant investment of £100 million in new and refurbished teaching facilities, lecture space, seminar rooms, informal student spaces, student accommodation and new sporting facilities.

We have already made significant improvements to our facilities. At our Loughton Campus, work is underway to improve student learning and social space. This work will be completed this October. At our Southend Campus, the investment in the development of the Forum building, new student accommodation, and the Clifftown Theatre, means we are well-placed to support continued growth and enhanced student services within our existing buildings. The new investment of £100 million will ensure we remain globally competitive and allow us to increase our total student numbers to about 20,000 by 2025.

Over the last six years, Wivenhoe Park has been steadily transformed by our dedicated grounds staff. We have created wonderful spaces that students, staff and our local community value, and in which they can relax, think and socialise. This year we have applied for a Green Flag award which, if awarded, will be well-deserved recognition of our stewardship of a quintessentially English parkland. We are constructing an all-weather lakeside path around the bottom lake which will open up our parkland to more of our community.

At Essex we frame our work around four areas, or ‘four pillars’:  our Global Outlook; our Research Mindset; the Essex Spirit; and our Culture of Membership. I am going to say a few words about each of these.

Global Outlook

In championing our global community, we remain a beacon of internationalism. Our students and staff come from all over the world – choosing to invest their lives and talent with us.

  • In this year’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings we are ranked 19th in the world and 2nd in the UK for our international outlook – the proportion of non-UK staff and students, and internationally co-authored papers.
  • And the Times Higher Education rankings place us 15th in the world and 8th in the UK for the proportion of our international students.

Bucking the national trend, I am delighted that for October our undergraduate non-UK EU applications have increased from last year by 13.5%. Our international undergraduate applications have risen by 7.5% and postgraduate taught applications have also increased, up 10.7% from last year. Our globally-minded students go all over the world on placement years, or as part of our study abroad programme, widening their horizons, making new friends, and gathering new experiences.

Research Mindset

In turning to our research mindset, in April last year, Professor Fiona Nolan was appointed to the post of Florence Nightingale Foundation Chair in Mental Health – the only one of its kind in the country.  In October, Professor Maria Fasli became the first, and the world’s only, UNESCO Chair in Analytics and Data Science – a tremendous accolade both for Maria and the work of Data Science at the University. I am also delighted that we have appointed Professor Ian Maynard as our Founding Professor of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Science, and the Head of the new School. Alongside the Regius Professorship in Political Science, currently held by Professor David Sanders, we are proud that these amazing, talented scholars are part of our Essex community.

Last year we secured £42 million of externally funded research income, double the amount of the previous year. Winning external funding is an extremely competitive peer review process, but is vital in allowing our staff to pursue research ideas – work that without this funding simply would not be possible. For example, a biological sciences research team has secured over half a million pounds to investigate marine bacteria which will help us to understand how global warming is changing this component of earth’s life support system. And we have also seen success in the prestigious UK Research Council’s ‘Global Challenges Research Fund’ schemes – illustrating the breadth of research undertaken at Essex. One project, receiving an £80,000 grant, is a creative and critical investigation into fractured communities and historical conflicts: in which our researchers are working with artists from Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Palestine, Serbia, Sri Lanka and India. Understanding Society, based at Essex is the UK Household Longitudinal Study, the largest household panel study in the world. It addresses key scientific and policy questions and is constantly innovating; it has secured £27 million of funding to support its data collection and associated activities through to 2021.

We want our research to have a real impact and to support this end, we work hard to engage with businesses of all sizes. In the last academic year our business and community engagement income was £23 million. We are now ranked in the top ten of all universities in the UK for engagement with businesses through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, one of the main ways we ensure our research feeds into business activity.  We have a portfolio of 17 different projects worth more than £3 million. These partnerships draw on our research to address areas of business priority, helping them to boost innovation and productivity and ultimately to grow. The range and scope of our Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is extensive.

  • We’re working with the Essex company Above Surveying to create state-of-the-art smart drones that will monitor Europe’s solar farms.
  • We’re helping Orbital Media, from Suffolk, to use artificial intelligence to create automated online GPs – helping to revolutionise the way patients are treated.
  • And, we know these projects are having a significant impact on businesses. Technology company LPA Connection Systems who provide internet connectivity on trains have just reported that their initial outlay of £110,000 has generated sales of around £8 million.
  • Professor Slava Mikhaylov, a newly appointed social scientist in our Department of Government, has been appointed the Chief Scientific Adviser to Essex County Council, helping to join up priorities in County Hall with research expertise within the University. This is the first Chief Scientific Adviser to be appointed by any UK University to their local council – and it is an investment by the University that will provide support and benefit to our local communities. This builds on a £4 million project with Suffolk and Essex County Councils to help them transform local services.
  • Parkside Office Village, 18,000 square feet of office space on our Knowledge Gateway science and business park, is now at 82% occupancy hosting 22 companies including the award-winning Games Hub and new Start-up Hub for student businesses.
  • But most important to me is that 25% of people working in the Office Village are either Essex graduates or Essex students.
  • Work is well underway on the £12 million Innovation Centre – a joint initiative with Essex County Council and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, which will open in the summer of 2018. The Innovation Centre will accommodate up to 50 start-up and small hi-tech businesses, offering practical support and expertise that businesses will be able to draw on to help them to start-up, scale-up, and succeed. At the heart of the Innovation Centre will be the world class digital and media creative lab, part of our contribution to supporting the development of Colchester as a beacon for the digital, media and creative arts.

We take our commitment to ‘research-led’ teaching very seriously. Our academic staff are both great researchers and great teachers and I am delighted that 54% of our academic staff are fellows or associates of the Higher Education Academy, the professional teaching body for UK universities or have a teaching qualification. We are in the third year of updating our curriculum. All our undergraduate degree programmes now include a research capstone project, which is the culmination of undergraduate study at Essex. It ensures that every one of our students is taught by academics at the forefront of their disciplines and each student has direct experience of being a researcher themselves with all the benefits that accrue from this – developing critical and analytic skills, gaining transferable skills and, in so doing, boosting their employability prospects. Our Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme gives students the chance of winning a bursary to work with one of our academic staff on a research project, with 90 bursaries awarded in 2016. This work is starting to produce results. Our Graduate-level employability has continued to improve, year on year, for the past three years.

  • Since 2012, for UK undergraduate leavers from full-time courses, we have seen a 25% improvement in our Graduate prospects score. 19% more of our students are obtaining graduate level jobs;
  • 24% of our students go on to graduate-level study; and
  • 76% of our students now earn a first or 2:1 degree.

The Essex Spirit

I am incredibly proud of the Essex Spirit. Over the past year our students have dedicated more than 23,000 hours of their time on volunteering projects, time spent directly helping people across our neighbourhoods. We launched the ‘One Essex’ campaign to re-affirm that our University campuses and local communities are inclusive and safe places. The campaign has involved working with our local partners to help raise visibility of these values in our communities, championing inclusivity and extolling the benefits of our global community.

Our International Students Association organised ‘One World Essex’, which included our Students’ Union  ‘knocking down the hate wall’ initiative. Our campus community took part in writing hateful words on the wall that they had heard, or discrimination they had experienced, and then came together to knock the wall down.

Our Enactus Student Society develops social enterprises and gives its members professional experience and access to opportunities. This year they reached the UK semi-finals, with a project based in Mali, helping poorer young people have access to a high quality education.

And our International alumni have once more been recognised for their achievements through the British Council Education UK Alumni Awards.

Culture of Membership

The enormously successful 18-month ‘Women of the Future’ appeal came to a close in December, concluding with a wonderful auction hosted by our Chancellor and special guest Sandy Toksvig. The appeal raised over £600,000 supporting 30 scholarships for women who want to come to study at Essex and then go out into the world and make it a better place.

We continue to be nationally recognised through being shortlisted and winning prestigious awards for the ground breaking work at the University. I am delighted that at the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management ceremony we won the award that recognises the excellence of education provision. The judges of the award said Essex’s strategy was “underpinned by a clear educational philosophy, which was to make a demonstrable impact on student learning outcomes. The valuing of teaching was driven up through a combination of staff reward and recognition schemes, alongside staff engagement in the University’s accredited continuing professional development scheme”. The judges concluded that we have achieved “impressive results” that are shown in the quality of teaching for students.The awards provide a welcome recognition of areas in which we lead the Higher Education sector – and of course help to raise our profile of what we do at Essex.

We remain committed to inclusivity and I am proud that this is a workplace where all staff and students are accepted without exception.

  • The proportion of female professors is at its highest ever level at 28.4% – which is 5.3% higher than the sector average.
  • We have seen a constant rise in the proportion of women appointed to academic posts over the last 3 years from 50.8% to 61.2% in 2016.
  • And LGBT plus colleagues make up 5.8% of our staff and student population.

Following a gender pay gap audit, we took decisive action to end the pay gap between our male and female professors, where our gender pay gap was the largest. We did this through a one-off uplift to women professor’s salaries from October 2016. We were the first university in the UK to do this and, in doing so, we reached 2.5 million people on social media and received extensive coverage in national broadsheet newspapers. We became the touchstone for the international debate about the gender pay gap.

When we decided we were going to make this change critics said such a step might be illegal, or if not illegal, too expensive and, if it wasn’t too expensive, then the pay gap would just immediately reopen. I am delighted to say that: we acted legally; sometimes principles do cost money; and one year on, the professorial gender pay gap remains closed.

The University of Essex is a special place and we are committed as ever to supporting our local communities in Colchester, Southend and Loughton. Our outreach work with schools continues to go from strength to strength.

  • Last year our outreach team worked with over 12,500 students from 130 schools.
  • The University welcomed 22 youth groups onto our campus, all experiencing a little bit of what it is like at Essex.
  • We are also part of a National Collaborative Outreach Programme, winning £5.8 million that will help more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education.
  • In September 2015 we started hosting the Six-Six Project, a project that opens our doors (and indeed classrooms) to five local sixth forms who teach A-level subjects on our campus. This has allowed more than 200 students to study the A-levels they wanted, but that the individual schools were not able to teach.

Sport is important to us; both encouraging wide participation and high-level performance. Nine thousand students took part in our ‘Just Play’ scheme which provides a whole range of sporting activities for beginners. Our performance sport programme is earning us some outstanding results. We have won nine British University and Colleges Sport league titles in: Volleyball, Basketball, Badminton, Golf, Rugby Union, Squash, and Tennis. Our Men’s Squash team took the British University and Colleges Sport Conference Cup title and in Harry Hughes we have the National Championship Gold medal winner in the Javelin and the current holder of the UK university record for javelin.


So, it has been an amazing year. I am absolutely delighted that we are ranked 30th in the 2017 Times Good University Guide. Our income this year will exceed £200 million pounds, and we will have generated over £22 million pounds in cash from our operating activities to re-invest back into our plans for our future. We are now contributing over half a billion pounds a year to the regional economy with 11% growth in the last year. That’s an increase of £69 million. This year we have also created two new academic departments: The School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Science and the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytical Studies. These are the first new departments opened in the University since 1991.

As a capstone to an amazing year I am delighted that we have been awarded Gold in the government led assessment of the quality of our teaching – the Teaching Excellence Framework. The Gold award in TEF has only been awarded to the top 25% of universities in the UK and demonstrates how we’re offering outstanding levels of stretch, in terms of ensuring all students are significantly challenged to achieve their full potential. Very few universities are excelling in education and research and I am delighted that in both government assessments Essex is ranked in the top 20 of the REF and the TEF.

As the saying goes, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. I am proud of how our staff and students are embracing what is happening, and reacting to it. I hope you are too.

Take a look at Our Year in Numbers 2017 animated video on Vimeo.

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