Students Staff
University of Essex

March 27, 2018

Equally committed to excellence in education and research – “dual intensive” universities

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, tells WONKHE blog how the TEF and REF measures are an increasingly important reference point for applicants. 

A commitment to excellence in research and education are two key elements of the mission of universities, but some have argued the assumed synergy between teaching and research is contested and difficult to deliver. A focus on the ‘dual intensive’ universities that excel in both areas is therefore particularly illuminating.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014 and the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) in 2017 provide two independent government sponsored assessments of research quality and teaching.

The REF and TEF might be imperfect and reductionist, but they permit UK-wide benchmarking and are an increasingly important reference point to shape the choice of applicants. They also allow us to identify universities which excel at both research and education and are ensuring the relationship between education and research is a positive sum game.

This visualisation shows that only 11 universities are in both the top 25% of the 2014 REF and the top 25% of the 2017 TEF when you plot REF 2014 GPA score, weighted for intensity, against TEF 2017 flag results. The use of z score leads to a very similar outcome as Wonkhe has previously covered.
























Editorial note: since this diagram was created some institutions have a new TEF award, either via appeal or through the TEF 2018 process. This diagram reflects the historical position of the sector in June 2017.

These 11 are almost all under 21,000 students with Birmingham an outlier with 27,000. They are also mostly campus-based universities.

Six of the eleven dual intensives were established or received university status in the 1960s. They sit alongside the ancient universities of Oxford (est. 1096), Cambridge (est. 1209) and St Andrews (est. 1413). In addition to Oxbridge, only Exeter (receiving its Royal Charter in 1955) and Birmingham (receiving its Royal Charter in 1900) are members of the Russell Group.

Staffing Strategy

Successful dual intensives have good or very good student-staff ratios with two outliers Essex (16.1:1) and Exeter (16.4:1). Some have embraced specialisation and separated their teaching and research staff to allow a division of labour. Others have focused on ensuring a commitment from their leading researchers to teach undergraduate students.

Separation runs the risk of creating a hierarchy within academic staff and the emergence of parallel teaching and research communities. Specialisation also reduces the number of staff available to return to the REF, with a concomitant reduction in research power, which is becoming ever more important as research funding becomes concentrated on a limited number of institutions.

However integration is not without its challenges. It places an obligation to recruit staff who are excellent at both education and research. It also requires universities to work with students to explain and secure their understanding of why academic staff will have breaks from the teaching programme to undertake research, and the benefits that accrue to students from studying in a research rich environment.

Resource Strategy

Dual intensives also have to work hard to manage the flow of cross-subsidies within their universities. Funders rarely cover the full cost of the research. A recent HEPI Report authored by Vicky Olive noted that in 2014-15 HEFCE estimated this shortfall to be around £3.3bn per annum. It is something of a Catch-22 that the more grants that are won – key to the success of a university excelling at research – the more cross-subsidy is required.

Olive estimates institutions make a surplus of 28% on non-publicly funded teaching, which goes towards subsidising UK research. In addition, dual intensives need to invest in research infrastructure and excellent teaching facilities, at the same time as ensuring that students get a good deal.

Managing this cross-subsidy requires excellent relations with students and their students’ union, to ensure it is accepted that expenditure on research and research infrastructure, is not at the expense of students. The growth in student numbers at dual intensives suggests they are managing to communicate a compelling offer for home and international students.

Unsurprisingly, the universities that are successful dual intensives demonstrate sound financial management reflected by average cash surpluses of around 5-8% per annum. They also have very good or excellent relations with their students – perhaps helped by being predominantly campus based and universities on a human scale.

Our very oldest universities have significant resources and reputations to draw on. However the other dual intensives have different forms of capital. These universities enjoyed the immense advantage of a clean slate to be in the words of Albert Sloman ‘freer, more daring, more experimental’. For many education and research were fused together at the moment of their foundation as dual intensive universities. They also appear to have the benefit of more participatory decision-making cultures than many civic and post-1992 universities.


Analysis of dual intensives highlights three key issues:

It is easier to assert excellence in education and research than to deliver it.
Dual intensives are successful in making the case to students about the benefits of the type of education they offer. However, these universities now have to make the case to government. This does not require a new mission group or the denigration of others, but recognition of equally valid modes of higher education. As the TEF shows there are many different forms of excellent teaching in our universities.
If government wants a group of universities to excel at both education and research, it must nurture the delicate ecosystem that is required to deliver it. Reductions in the Home/EU fees including the introduction of variable fees (without back-fill from government); restrictions on the ability of universities to recruit their fair share of talented international students; and any reduction in research funding, whether through the REF, further reductions in full economic cost funding of research, or further research concentration will disrupt the delicate balance that the dual intensives have struck, with extremely damaging effects to diversity within the UK university sector.
Andrew McRae from the University of Exeter has recently noted on Wonkhe that new Universities Minister Sam Gyimah MP has offered ‘…no comment on how research spending might benefit students, just as he avoids any reflection on the distinctive combination of research and education that shapes universities.’ To the UK government, the emergence of 11 dual intensive universities demonstrates that although extremely challenging, it is possible to excel at both education and research. This group of universities is also key to the diversity of the sector and is often overlooked and undervalued.

In a variety of ways dual intensives are meeting the needs of their time by offering to students a research-led education that is truly transformative. They are doing something right and this deserves to be recognised.

Professor Anthony Forster


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.