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.

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