Students Staff
University of Essex

June 22, 2018

The Annual Meeting 2018 – showcasing our year of success

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, shared some of our major achievements as part of this year’s Annual Meeting. Read his full speech here.

At this year’s Annual Meeting our Vice-Chancellor was joined by our Chancellor, the Rt Hon John Bercow.

The Annual Meeting is a highlight of our year, and I am delighted that we have this opportunity to share some of the major achievements of the University over the last 12 months with our friends and our supporters – you are absolutely integral to the success of the University – and our successes are your successes.

My theme for this year’s Annual Meeting is ‘Supporting our local communities’ and it is through this theme that I want to highlight how having a world class university in the county of Essex, is having a positive impact within this region.

Take a look at this video to see more about how we support our local communities.

In 2013 we set ourselves the challenge that by 2019 we would be a university recognised for being equally committed to delivering excellence in education and research.

The purpose of this commitment is to offer a transformational education to our students, irrespective of their background and to create graduates who want to change the world.

This was the founding mission of the University – and, reconnecting with the vision and values upon which the University was created, lies at the very heart of our work over the last five years.

We are in the penultimate year of our current Strategic Plan and I am delighted to report that we are on-track to deliver on all of our aspirations.

This is also an opportunity for me to tell you that we have started the process of developing our next strategic plan, which will take us from 2019 to 2025. This work is being led by our Deputy-Vice Chancellor designate, Professor Lorna Fox O’ Mahoney, and you will have the opportunity to share your ideas and feedback, to help us shape our future, afterwards at the Summer Reception.

In June of last year we were awarded the highest rating of Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework. Awarding the Gold rating, the panel commented that at Essex students from all backgrounds achieve outstanding outcomes with regards to continuation and progression to highly skilled employment or further study.

37% of our UK students come from homes where the household income is less than £25,000 and we are the leading research-intensive university for recruiting students on the basis of potential and not just prior achievement. Our work changes the life chances of students who come to Essex and I am proud of this.

The Summer Reception, gave our Chancellor the chance to meet teams from across the University, including our portering team.UK students come from homes where the household income is less than £25,000 and we are the leading research-intensive university for recruiting students on the basis of potential and not just prior achievement. Our work changes the life chances of students who come to Essex and I am proud of this.

This year we have achieved a ranking of 22nd place – our highest ever ranking – in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. And we have been ranked 26th in The Independent Complete University Guide and 31st in the Guardian University Guide.

A further accolade saw us also being shortlisted for The Times and The Sunday Times prestigious title of University of the Year.

In particular we have improved our scores for the employment of Essex graduates and spending on academic services and facilities for students – which is the highest in the eastern region and the third-highest in the UK.

I am especially proud that the University is now in a select group of 11 ‘dual intensive’ universities who are ranked in the top 25 for the quality of research in the Research Excellence Framework and the top 25 for teaching quality in the TEF.

I am also delighted that our global reputation continues to increase. We are in the top 150 globally for business and economics, and Computer Science and Electronic Engineering are in the top 250.

Politics and International Relations, and Sociology are now ranked 36th and 37th respectively in the World University rankings and in Law we are ranked 47th.

Our rise in the international league tables is encouraging. Social Sciences at Essex has been ranked 46th – a rise of 37 places – in new Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2018 and  I am delighted that our Humanities are now ranked in the top 250 in the world.

Nurturing our reputation has very real benefits. As more people know about us, our values and who we are, we attract talent from around the world to work at Essex 29% of our staff and 38% of our students come from outside the UK – bringing richness to our lives and the communities our staff and students live in.

Our students have also spoken up for what they love about Essex. The latest National Student Survey results show that Essex has achieved a top 15 ranking for the fifth year running, out of all English mainstream universities.

I am delighted that in 2017 we won The Times Higher Education Teaching and Learning Strategy of the Year award, which is recognition of our relentless focus on putting our students at the centre of our thinking.

Our outstanding student support was also praised by the international panel of judges of the Higher Education Academy’s Global Teaching Excellence 2017 Award where we were ranked as a finalist among the top 27 universities in the world.

Our Essex Online degree programmes have 1,632 students taking courses this year, and in 2017 we won the international PIEoneer Award celebrating the most innovative work being done across the international education sector.

Reflecting the amazing work of University of Essex Online we were also shortlisted for the Times Higher Leadership and Management Awards. We now offer 36 courses online and have an ambition to increase registrations to more than 3,000 by 2021.  I am delighted Kaplan (University of Essex) On Line was rated Gold in the TEF, the highest rating of any on-line degree programme in the UK.

This year we launched two new academic departments, the first new departments at the University for 10 years.

The Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies builds on the long-established success of an existing centre, the new department has added a range of new degree programmes in childhood studies and we look forward to it building up its success towards the next government assessment of our research in 2021.

The School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences – brings together academic teams in a new and very exciting way and is located in our new Essex Sports Arena – the largest indoor public arena in the East of England.

Our VC with members of our EMS helpdesk team, Victoria Shankley and Adam Endean, at the Summer Reception.

In November our Institute for Social and Economic Research was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

The Prize is the highest form of national recognition for the work of a UK university – the Oscars of higher education – and was officially bestowed on the University at Buckingham Palace by Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.

ISER is a flagship research institute and the prize recognises how our amazing researchers are delivering influential and authoritative research, which has an impact at a regional, national and international level.

We won our first Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2008 for our human rights work and winning our second Prize is a tremendous honour for the whole of the University, highlighting the importance of world-renowned social science research taking place here at Essex.

I’m delighted to report that we have secured significant funding over the last year, with a total of £28 million of research funding – the highest amount of research funding ever, which allows our staff to do amazing things.

One example is the work of our biological scientists led by Professor Christine Raines who leads a major international research programme, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, working with the University of Illinois, to investigate the protein CP12, an important component because it helps plants respond to changing light levels, which could boost crop yields in the future.

We are part of a consortium of eight universities which has secured £42 million of new investment to fund the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics to develop state-of-the-art robotics, sensing and artificial intelligence technologies to address the major challenges posed by nuclear environments and materials.

We are part of a £1 million Medical Research Council project to investigate how and why schizophrenia develops, through genomic profiling.

We lead a £4.7 million consortium that is creating a university network that supports business innovation in Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent.

We see this funding as a game-changer in enabling us to further transform the relationship between universities and the private sector. This builds on the work of Professor Slava Mikhaylov, a professor of public policy and data science, who is the Chief Scientific Adviser to Essex County Council, linking our expertise with local authorities to improve public service delivery.

And we are working hard to engage a wider audience with Essex scientists and our research. I am delighted it is Essex that has the largest number of contributors to The Conversation – a popular web platform for debating contemporary science issues.

For example, an article by Dr Nicolas Geeraert whose research focuses on how knowledge about different cultures is shaking the foundations of psychology was read by 170,000 people.

Last year we launched the Centre for Public Engagement led by Professor Jules Pretty to add momentum to our engagement and we want to accelerate this work in the coming year.

And I’m delighted that we’re working with 18 universities across Europe to enrich the educational experience of our students through joint degrees and study abroad, increasing the impact of our researchers, and sharing best practice across institutions through the Young European Research Universities Network.

The network was launched at the European Parliament in November. Within the network, we are leading work on analytics and data science, migration and on sharing best practice across the network on improving employability of students.

I want to say a little more about why our agenda for growth matters.

In 2012 we were the third smallest multi-faculty university in England – quite frankly too small to survive as a separate, independent university. Over the last five years we have grown to about 15,000 students – from a small university to a small, medium-sized university.

Over the next seven years we want to grow to about 20,000 students – to become a medium-sized university. We are confident we can do this in a sustainable way, carefully matching growth in student numbers with facilities and staffing.

As part of our growth plans, we want to create two new academic departments or subjects and next year we will begin working this up. This will be a major decision for the University and it will have a tremendous impact on the region – especially if we get the subjects right.

Our income this year will exceed £215 million pounds. As we grow our student numbers, we are creating high value jobs and since Oct 2012 we have created 200 academic posts and 100 professional services posts.

Our activities now contribute 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 going into the regional economy.

Our programme of investment of £100 million in our estate is underway – creating local jobs and an amazing environment for our staff and students and our local communities.

Summer Reception 2018

We are working hard to improve teaching facilities, lecture space, seminar rooms, informal student spaces, and student accommodation – with our new Essex Sport Arena, STEM building on Square 1, new Innovation Centre and new student accommodation – the Copse the most prominent new additions to our estate.

At our Loughton Campus, we have invested £3 million in new student learning and social space to support our amazing acting school East 15; the most international acting school in the UK.

At our Colchester Campus, in January this year our Essex Sport Arena was launched by double Olympic champion Max Whitlock MBE and our Chancellor the Right Hon John Bercow MP.

The event attracted hundreds of guests from the local community as well as University staff and their families – and was a very jolly occasion.

The arena has bookable space and is now home to the Max and Leah Whitlock Gymnastics School for boys and girls aged 3 to 11. It also hosts sporting events including professional premier league netball, and, from next year, professional basketball games.

By the end of this calendar year, we will be opening our brand-new STEM building on Square 1 for science, technology, engineering and maths.

The centre will include a versatile, 180-seat wet lab for Biological Sciences students and a 200-seat IT-rich exploratory learning space to help students work collaboratively. The accessible building will also include social space and a café – perfect for business meetings and for outreach work with schools.

And our new student accommodation, The Copse, will be ready for our students in September. It offers 643 ensuite rooms, studios and flats and social space.

We know some students want to live in our local communities and we welcome this – but we also want to offer the opportunity for students who want to live on our campuses the opportunity to do so – and the support from our local council has been much appreciated in allowing this to happen.

The Knowledge Gateway continues to grow apace.  We have invested £50 million in creating our research and technology park, which lies at the heart of our commitment to helping businesses innovate and grow.

The aim of Knowledge Gateway is to have a science and research park seamlessly integrated into the University’s activities – drawing on our research expertise, students, and infrastructure.

43 acres have now been allocated for this and we aim to have 2,000 employees on the site when fully developed, and for Knowledge Gateway to be the location of choice for knowledge-based industries.

Our Parkside Office Village buildings are fully occupied and currently 135 employees are based on the Knowledge Gateway, in 26 businesses. We insist on each tenant offering internships to our students and we are delighted with the positive response to supporting our students – and 27% of employees are Essex students or graduates.

In September we will be opening a third phase of buildings on our Parkside Office Village so that even more SMEs can join us – and we hope 30% of our next phase of development will be pre-let.

In the spring of 2019 our new Innovation Centre will open its doors to start-ups, offering space and hands-on support to help them flourish. It will have a digital media creative lab supporting a priority industry for Essex – and we hope the Innovation Centre will create 900 jobs directly or indirectly.

Partnership funding from Essex County Council and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership has helped us realise this exciting vision, and we very much look forward to showing you around it this time next year.

The Start-up Hub, which opened earlier this year, provides early stage practical support to students and graduates through to the next stages of their business development. We identified the need to provide workspace, mentor support, and funding to student entrepreneurs. To date, 39 companies have participated of which 24 have registered as a legal entity.

We have provided grants or loan funding to 11 businesses totalling £40,000, and 70% of participants are University of Essex graduates.

A games development programme runs in the start-up hub, aimed at mentoring and supporting students and local people that wish to develop computer games. 40 people take part in the programme for new games developers each year. Microsoft, Dlala Studios, Square Enix and Tower Studios all support the programme.

We are now ranked in the top five of all universities in the UK for engagement with businesses through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships – the main way our research feeds into business activity by our academics working alongside businesses to help boost new business ideas.

A sector-leading seven Knowledge Transfer Partnerships were recently awarded to the University, which means Essex researchers are now working on an incredible 23 projects and we hope to be ranked in the top three in the UK in the next year.

Global technology company ARM is joining forces with the University to launch degree apprenticeships to develop the next generation of engineers.

And we are the first University in the eastern region to offer high-tech degree apprenticeships accredited by the national Government-backed Tech Partnership initiative.

Essex is ranked in the top 300 universities globally in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings – our highest ranking for four years.

We are in the top 20 for international outlook in 2018 in the Times Higher Education world university rankings – reflecting our ability to attract students and research talent from around the world as well as our commitment to collaboration with leading institutions.

Our global reach is extending apace. I have made a personal commitment to contributing to promoting the idea of a Global Britain following the decision to leave the EU by leading overseas delegations.

In a first for Essex we have approved a new joint degree course developed between ourselves and Northwest University, in Xi’an, China.

The prestigious four-year programme will lead to qualifications from both countries in Electronic Systems Engineering, and Electronic Information Science and Technology.

Students will complete the first three years of the programme in China, with Essex staff travelling to deliver month-long modules, alongside Northwest University staff. Our students will be taught in both English and Mandarin – the first time outside our Department of Languages and Linguistics we are teaching in a language other than English.

Since its foundation, Essex has had a commitment to being a truly global university – attracting students and staff from the world over – and ensuring as many students as possible can benefit from an Essex education.

In April, I attended our graduation ceremony for students with Essex degrees with Kaplan Singapore, which was a great success. The 115 graduates were joined by family and friends for the special ceremony, and I’m delighted to say we’ll be hosting our first graduation ceremony in Beijing in February 2019.

And, as global citizens, our graduates are doing amazing things. This year we have 11 Essex finalists in the British Council’s annual alumni awards from China, Kazakhstan, India, Saudi Arabia and Thailand, Qatar, Belgium and Nigeria.

Of these nominees and winners, Ugonnaya Igwilo from Nigeria has played an important role in supporting public awareness campaigns to try to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus and has also worked extensively with victims of AIDS/HIV.

I am incredibly proud of the ‘Essex Spirit’ demonstrated by our students and staff.

This year, our Students’ Union introduced a new scheme to incentivise clubs and societies to do more volunteering – and over  the past year, our students have dedicated more than 32,000 hours of their time on volunteering projects – time spent directly helping people across our neighbourhoods – that’s 4,571 days of volunteering.

This includes supporting refugee teaching programmes, to helping with weekly sessions in local primary schools, to hands-on help with IT and computer coding, and rolling-up their sleeves to help refurbish local community spaces, through the Student Union’s V-Team.

For the past four years, Essex students have won the ‘Many Languages, One World’ essay contest for the UN academic impact outreach programme.

This year, graduate Clara Mayerl won with her essay on the role of multilingual ability in fostering global citizenship and cultural understanding.

Our law masters students won the Jean-Pictet International Humanitarian Law Competition; beating 47 competitors to bring the title home – and we last won the competition 25 years ago.  This was a week-long simulation of a fictional armed conflict where teams apply their knowledge of human rights law to a wide range of roleplay situations, taking on the parts of lawyers, and the military.

I’m delighted to report that our crowdfunding project Click has now raised a quarter of a million pounds – and supported 200 student projects since it started. This makes it one of the most prolific higher education crowdfunding platforms in the world.

It was shortlisted in the Outstanding Support for Students category of the Times Higher Awards 2017. When you leave this lecture theatre today you will be handed a yellow voting token. During our Summer Reception, which follows at the Silberrad Student Centre, you will see a number of student projects, all currently raising money on the Click crowdfunding platform. Please take some time to visit each project, using your yellow token to vote for your favourite, and the winner will receive additional funding. They are all super projects – so you may also want to make a contribution!

I am proud that this is a workplace where all staff and students are valued. The proportion of female professors has risen from 24.1% to 29.8% – that is 5.2% above the sector average. Five out of 11 of our senior leadership team are women and 13 out of 25 of our governing body are women.

LGBT plus colleagues who have declared their sexual orientation now make up 6.6% of our staff and student population.

The University is committed to fair and transparent pay and reward for all staff, and has taken significant steps to tackle casualisation, and pays both the national living wage and the Living Wage Foundation living wage. There are no significant pay gaps in relation to equal pay for work of equal value, across all grades in the University.

The gender pay gap is 18.6%, a reduction of 6.2% between 2013 and 2017 – but it is still unacceptably high. In delivering on our commitment to fair and transparent pay, some good progress had been made, but addressing the gender pay gap requires further work and this will be a focus of attention for the University in the coming years.

Our commitment to working with local schools goes from strength to strength. Last year our outreach team worked with 130 schools and more than 11,000 beneficiaries.

This work includes the National Collaborative Outreach Programme, to help more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education; welcoming 900 budding scientists from schools across Essex and Suffolk to the Big Bang fair; running our Six-Six Project that opens our classrooms to five local sixth forms; and our Schools’ Membership Plus scheme, that has established relationships with 38 schools and colleges across the east of England.

There are many other ways we are supporting our community, too.

Our beautiful parkland is here for all to enjoy. I am delighted that last year we were awarded a Green Flag for our wonderful natural, and quintessentially English parkland here on the Colchester Campus. We are also working with Essex County Council to map-out accessible green spaces, that support health, wellbeing and social care.

At Essex, sport matters to us – in terms of participation and high-level performance – and on a community level.

We are an FA Grass Roots football hub and  home to Layer Colts Junior Football Club, an FA centre  for promoting girls’ football, we hosted  a girls’ rugby sevens competition, and as  a Lawn Tennis Association University Partner, more than 100 children and adults take part in our tennis courses every week.

We host the schools’ junior National Basketball Association finals for the East, and we are involved in the Jump Higher scheme that uses basketball as a vehicle to raise the academic aspirations of children in socially-deprived local communities.

Our performance sport programme is earning us some outstanding results. Our Blades Men Volleyball team won the National Student Cup for the second year in a row.

Our women’s basketball team have this season won the British Universities Premier South title in their first season in the league, with a perfect 10-0 record.  They have also won the Basketball England National League Division 1 title with 20 wins and just one defeat.

Next season the women’s basketball team will be joining the WBBL, the professional British League, which is screened live on the BBC Red Button.

And we now have more than 70 talented sportsmen and sportswomen from across the globe who are part of our scholar-athlete programme which is primarily focused on three key sports – basketball, rugby sevens and volleyball.

So, it has been an amazing year. And we have achieved all these things thanks to the energy and drive of our staff, our students, and our supporters.

This is an exciting time of the year for us, because Graduation is just around the corner.

This year, we will be hosting 15 Graduation ceremonies, and as we congratulate a cohort of some 4,800 Essex graduates, we shall wish them well.

When students apply to study here, we tell them Essex is home to the brave and the bold. These are two qualities we have needed over the past twelve months.

They have helped to set us apart, stay focused, make the right decisions – and with these qualities we continue to steer a confident course, consistent with our values and purpose.

I hope you get a clear sense that ‘our’ successes are ‘your’ successes –  and I look forward to your support, as we continue our work as a global university committed to our local communities – founded ‘in’ ‘by’ and ‘for’ the people of Essex.

As an anchor within local communities, we are always pleased to welcome others to our campuses, and support our local communities. Through our impactful research – to our work with schools and volunteering initiatives.

I hope you feel that the University is a force for good in the world – and that we are trying to play our part in making the world a better place.

This final video demonstrates how our doors are always open.

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

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.

June 6, 2018

THE Young University Rankings 2018: an instinctively daring breed

Bold by nature, young institutions are tailor-made for ambitious projects such as the EU’s plan to create disruptive “super-networks”, our Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster tells Times Higher Education.

Since the Middle Ages, scholars have been moving between great seats of learning across Europe and Asia. In the past 30 years, the trend has been to formalise links through the creation of multi-partner university networks.

In the UK, this has taken place through associations such as MillionPlus, at a regional level through organisations such as the Young European Research Universities Network (YERUN), and at a global level with alliances such as the World Universities Network.

It is in this context that the European Commission is promoting a new generation of creative Europeans collaborating across borders and across disciplines.

British institutions such as the University of Essex are undeterred by Brexit in looking to play their part; in fact, these links are considered more important than ever.

We know that successful collaboration will offer considerable opportunities to our academic staff and students, as well as increasing the global competitiveness and performance of the whole continent.

For university leadership teams, networks exist to serve a variety of purposes based on a mix of conviction and calculation. They create opportunities for universities to:

  • Associate with those who are like-minded and complementary
  • Offer a multinational educational experience at all degree levels
  • Build multinational research teams to tackle the world’s most challenging questions
  • Open up funding opportunities in different jurisdictions
  • Seek a variety of benefits from brand recognition of the network
  • Identify economies of scale in lobbying governments.

In 2018, it is very rare to find a university that is not part of a multi-university international network, but the level of engagement and impact varies widely.

In part, this explains the motivation of the European Commission’s vision for the coming decade, The Future of Europe: Towards a European Education Area, which aims to strengthen strategic partnerships between higher education institutions and to encourage the emergence by 2025 of 20 super-networks of “European Universities”.

The proposal is that these will consist of bottom-up networks of universities across the European Union, which will enable students to obtain a degree by combining studies in several EU countries and will contribute to the international competitiveness of European universities.

The initiative is gathering momentum. Earlier this year, four institutions in the Czech Republic, Germany, France and Poland created an alliance for teaching and research sparked by the plan. Meanwhile, a pilot possibly involving up to five networks, each comprising four to six universities, is expected to get under way this autumn.

The magnitude of ambition is striking, with each network sharing a common education and research strategy, and a comprehensive level of engagement. In education, the commission would like the focus to be on students obtaining joint degrees based on student-centred learning, innovative pedagogies, learning of languages, physical and virtual mobility, work-based learning and the transfer of the latest research results into education programmes.

Researchers would benefit from sharing infrastructure and the creation of interdisciplinary teams, where students, staff, academics and local ecosystems co-create and co-share knowledge and innovation. At the heart of the idea is a desire to shape a new generation of creative Europeans who work together across borders and across disciplines; and to enhance the global performance and competitive advantage of European universities.

This is a radical proposal, designed to shake up existing hierarchies, legislative barriers, and turbocharge the depth of engagement and the focus of existing collaboration. It is no surprise that more established universities are downplaying the idea.

For younger European universities, where age does not play such a prominent role in their reputation and global league table position, challenging the status quo is in their DNA, and the commission initiative offers an exciting opportunity for disruptive innovation in higher education.

Of course, ideas need to be refined, the number of pilot networks is too small and each network could be larger, but these issues can be addressed in the coming months.

With the resources available to the commission to promote this initiative – notably from Erasmus+, but possibly complemented with the future Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, structural funds and national funding – this is an exciting opportunity to do something different and to put European universities on the map in new and exciting ways, to the benefit of students, society and the economy.

I hope everyone will welcome the scale of ambition.

Professor Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor University of Essex, and executive board member, Young European Research Universities Network.