Students Staff
University of Essex

November 30, 2018

Three major challenges confronting our University

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, and our Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate), Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, spoke to the Times Higher this week about the challenges we face as a University.

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster.

Universities are grappling with a range of unprecedented challenges – many are issues over which we have little or no control. Of course we worry about these issues, but at Essex we are working hard to ensure this does not overwhelm us, by focusing on what we can control and choosing carefully where we can focus our energy. This means regularly revisiting our founding mission to ensure that we do all that we can to deliver excellence in education and research for the benefit of individuals and society. In doing so we want to be daring, impatient for change – and to ensure that our university meets the needs of our time.

With the creation of new universities in the 1960s, public confidence in the value of a university education was rising. Increased access to higher education promised exciting opportunities for people who had previously been excluded from higher education, not for want of ability or potential, but because of background. Access to a university education as a means to unlock potential and transform communities inspired a campaign for a new university in Essex and moved people to give generously to its establishment. In return, the University of Essex made a commitment to be equally committed to education and research – a university for the real world and a university concerned not only with the pursuit of learning, but with the fulfilment of lives.

We are a dual intensive university committed to offering transformational education and research. Other universities have privileged research at the expense of education, or education at the expense of research, – and some are only prepared to pay lip service to social mobility.  If the type of university that Essex represents is to be cherished and not just tolerated, then we have to respond to three challenges:First we need to redouble our effort to demonstrate we offer real benefit for people and communities, particularly those facing social, economic, political and cultural challenges. For us the promise of higher education as a public good means we must live up to a dual challenge of ensuring fair access and outstanding outcomes for students from every background. It means encouraging students from underrepresented groups to go to our university, so that we can be seen to champion sharing the benefits of higher education. At Essex, 41% of our UK students come from households with an income of less than £25,000 a year, so it is no surprise that we are the most socially inclusive university in the Times Good University Guide top 30 – rightly a source of great pride to our university community. But fair access is only one step towards a more equitable distribution of the public good of higher education. We must also ensure that every student has an opportunity to achieve outstanding outcomes regardless of socio-economic background, gender or ethnicity. Whilst the Teaching Excellence Framework has its flaws, it is the only serious attempt by government to understand and benchmark added value. Retaining our TEF Gold rating is key to assessing our progress and demonstrating our commitment to social mobility.

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, (Designate) Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony.

Second we must ensure our research continues to ask difficult questions, to challenge conventional wisdom, speak truth to power and makes a positive difference to people’s lives. For us this means supporting research that tackles with rigour the questions that matter for people and communities, that seeks out solutions and puts ideas into action, with a commitment to make the world a better place. To support this we must continue to do well in the government’s assessment of research quality, in securing external funding such as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and financial support for training PhDs who will be the next generation of scholars. We must also continue to champion academic freedom within the law, which can never be taken for granted.

Finally, we must continue to make the case for dual intensive universities in UK HE – for a strong link between transformative education and research. We need to champion the benefits of world leading scholars teaching students. This type of education provides a range of skills that supports graduates to thrive in a changing employment landscape and through social and community engagement helps solve societal challenges that matter. We must continue to make the case to government that if it wants universities to excel at both education and research, then it must play its part in nurturing the delicate ecosystem that is required to deliver it.

We are self-critical about whether we are being brave enough and imaginative enough in pursuing this agenda, but you would be wrong to think that the scale of the challenge keeps us awake at night – it does not – but day in day out, it is what gets us out of bed in the morning.

Professor Anthony Forster and Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony



We’ve been awarded the accolade of University of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards

I am delighted to let you know that the University of Essex was awarded the accolade of University of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards presentation last night.

The judges said that our University had been “unabashed in its strategy to recruit students on the basis of potential rather than just prior achievement, and it has helped them to fulfil that potential. It has delivered on its pledge to value staff in concrete ways, including a systematic decasualisation of its workforce, through pay equality and with staff contracts for graduate teaching assistants. What are universities, if not communities of talented, committed people? By putting those people – both staff and students – first, the University of Essex has every right to its claim to be a ‘home for staff and students who want to make the world a better place’. It is also our University of the Year.”

You can read more on the news page of our website.

This award recognises the impact of the work of our amazing staff and students, the quality of our relationship with our Students’ Union and the strength of our regional, national and global partnerships in delivering our mission.

Our Students’ Union President Tancrede Chartier joined me in collecting this prestigious award. Tanki said: “This award recognises the incredible qualities and achievements of Essex students, past and present, and the unique partnership between the Students’ Union and the University, to put student success at the heart of everything that happens at Essex. We are all feeling justifiably proud the University has received this award.”

I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone in our community. Your commitment to the University and our mission is the reason why we received this recognition – and I wanted to say thank you and very many congratulations.

We will be sure to find opportunities for staff and students to celebrate this award in the coming weeks.



November 16, 2018

The UK’s strength in science is because of the EU – not in spite of it

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, tells the Guardian that maintaining a close relationship with the remaining EU countries is crucial to the continued success of UK universities.

Brexit negotiations may be in turmoil, but UK universities need the government to encourage even stronger links with the remaining 27 member states in the European Union, no matter how we finally decide to leave. We must ensure the UK remains a beacon of scientific excellence, driving improvements in productivity, job creation and growth.

The UK’s new relationship with the rest of the EU will be vital in determining the future of its scientific standing. Producing 11.6% of the world’s citations and 15.9% of the most highly-cited articles, it is rightly admired as a beacon of scientific excellence. The UK constitutes just 0.9% of the global population and has 4.1% of the world’s researchers. Among our comparator countries, we have overtaken the USA to rank first by field-weighted citation impact of scholarly publications. And after the USA, we have more universities in the top 100 in the world than any other country.

Delivering a global Britain requires the government to nurture the links our universities have built-up with European Union partners – not spurn them. This is why I sent an open letter to the universities minister to make clear that our global scientific impact has not occurred despite our membership of the EU, but because of it; it is the foundation on which our work has been built.

For more than 45 years, membership of the EU has allowed staff and student exchange across countries, research collaboration, joint degrees and a shared academic infrastructure of common quality and standards, and mutual recognition of degrees. It has enabled engagement in large-scale research facilities that have supported staff in UK universities to become world leaders. The depth and breadth of this scholarly engagement is unmatched by any other country across the globe. No one should trivialise the contribution our relationship with the EU has made to our global standing, and let’s correct any miscalculation of the effort we now need to invest in sustaining our EU 27 links.

Since the referendum vote, UK universities – including my own – have nurtured our existing relationships and forged new partnerships across Europe. This has included joining networks such as the Young European Research Universities Network, which will bring together a new generation of Europeans to cooperate across languages, borders and disciplines, and to address the big societal challenges and skills shortages.

We must now refute zero-sum claims that global Britain requires us to deprioritise our EU 27 links, in order to promote collaboration in other parts of the world. I have just returned from Africa, where I met the leaders of leading universities in South Africa and Botswana to develop relationships which complement existing partnerships with EU 27 universities, not replace them. These universities want to connect with a university which is part of a wider scholarly community of universities in the EU 27, not one that stands aside from them.

For universities to thrive after Brexit, we need to be able to recruit the best staff from around the world. Future policy will require a deft touch to ensure we remain a global destination of choice for talented students, academics and professionals from the EU 27, with the UK their preferred intellectual home.

Scientific research transforms lives. Why is that so often forgotten?

Equally, we need to ensure UK universities continue to offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses that include a work or study abroad experience through full engagement with the EU’s Erasmus+ programmes.

Finally, access to research networks in the EU 27 countries is paramount. This is not just a matter of tapping into EU research and innovation funds, but also forming part of scientific research networks. It is essential to sustaining the UK’s global scientific impact.

The government needs to recognise that maintaining a mutually beneficial post-Brexit relationship with our 27 European partners is mission critical to achieving its ambitions to become a global Britain.

Professor Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor



Encouraging safe and respectful behaviour

Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris, tells us more about the work we’re doing, in collaboration with our SU, to make sure that all the citizens of our campuses feel safe, secure and respected.

Bryn Morris

Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris

Our campuses are special places. They are home to many of our students, as well as providing high quality learning spaces. Each has its own quirks. Loughton has charm and creativity in its walls; Southend buzzes in the centre of a busy urban area; and Colchester is like a small town in its own right, with shops, sports facilities, a bank, a cinema and a range of other leisure facilities.

Like small towns, it’s important that all the citizens of our campuses feel safe, secure and respected. Our Patrol Officers in Colchester and our Security Officers in Southend and Loughton – the Guardians of our Campuses – work hard to protect the safety of everyone who lives and works in the University. But it is just as important for everyone in our community to take responsibility for making this a place to live that is, and feels, safe. This means being respectful to other people, and also calling out behaviour that we think isn’t acceptable. Our community is a strong one. Earlier this week, we saw many students and staff gather on Square 3 at the Colchester campus to pledge to end harassment of any sort. Another event of this nature is being planned at Southend later on this term. This has given and continues to give a powerful message, and I was proud to be part of the event.

Looking after each other

We all need to look after, and out for, each other. We have a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment. If standards are not met, and offences happen, we will always investigate and take action, proportionate to the circumstances of the case. Ultimately, however, our penalties can result in a student being expelled from the University. This has and does happen. The Code of Student Conduct tells you what we expect – and what could happen if behaviour falls short of these expectations.

We will also co-operate fully with the Police if an offence is committed. You might have read recently about a couple of incidents that happened on our Colchester campus. I want to reassure you that, through fast Police work, and the images captured on our CCTV cameras, two arrests have been made. We will always take steps to protect our community.

At our Southend Campus we and our Security Officers liaise closely with the Police, Town Link Radio and Southend Council’s CCTV team to work together on crime prevention and investigation. We also work with local agencies and partner organisations in Southend to address concerns about safety in and around the town centre.

We really want our campuses to be places where everyone can feel safe. If you spot something happening which worries you, then there are a number of things you can do about it. If you want to talk to someone, then there are a lot of ways of doing this. Nightline exists for students, and the Harassment Advisory Network is there for members of staff. Most importantly, anything you see or experience can be reported through our Report & Support system. We will follow up anything reported wherever we can.

Be an active bystander

You can also sign up for our Active Bystander training. This is currently delivered in Colchester, and we are hoping to extend this to Southend. We have trained over 300 staff and students so far and the numbers are growing. Maybe you have been in a situation where someone has made a sexist comment, a homophobic remark, a transphobic joke, a biphobic statement or a rape joke, and although you knew it wasn’t right, you might not have been able to intervene – perhaps through a lack of confidence, or even a fear of repercussion. This training is designed to spread knowledge about consent and the continuum of sexual violence, and to empower our community with the skills to intervene safely. This could be having a quiet word with the person making the inappropriate joke, or it could be calling it out calmly at the time, to let them know that it’s not OK.

The University and the SU work hard together to make our campuses as safe and secure as possible. Some of the things we are doing are employing more Patrol Officers so we have enough staff on our Colchester campus at night to allow them to visit the Colchester accommodation blocks, reviewing our CCTV system, buying more cameras, and making dark places lighter, as well as encouraging everyone to look after themselves and each other. In Southend, personal alarms are available free of charge from the SU Lounge and Office, Gateway Building Reception and University Square reception. The SU in Colchester has introduced enhanced door security and searches on entry to its venues, engaged volunteer Welfare Angels to work at night to take care of students leaving venues, and launched the Ask for Angela initiative. You might have seen the sniffer dogs we use as well.

A place where respect is the watchword

We held a ‘town hall’ meeting on 24 October, to which we invited representatives from across the student and staff communities to discuss further actions we could take both in promoting the message that any sort of sexual violence or harassment is not acceptable and in making our community feel as safe as possible. We received several excellent suggestions through this forum, which we are taking forward. The work doesn’t stop here, however, and we are still keen to hear more ideas. If you have something you’d like to suggest, let me know, or you can feed in through the SU.

We need your help to continue to make our University a place where respect is the watchword. Spread the word. Tell your mates. Look after each other.



November 1, 2018

Consultation opens on direction of travel for our University Strategy, 2019-25

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor Designate, Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, updates us on the progress of our next strategic plan 2019-25.

Professor Lorna Fox O'Mahony, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate)

Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate)

Our next University Strategy will set out our priorities for the period 2019-25, shaping how we advance our mission of excellence in education and research in the context of our changing world.

Since January 2018 I have supported the Vice-Chancellor to ensure we engage widely across our community to gather ideas and input. These have shaped our approach to thinking about the priorities that will frame our work in this next period.

To give you a sense of the scale of engagement, Area Reviews in each of our three faculties and Professional Services have gathered ideas and input across departments and sections. We have collected input through themed workshops focused on education and research; two meetings of Senior Staff Conference; open consultation events at each of our three campuses; regular meetings with the Students’ Union leadership; discussions with our University Council and our dedicated Moodle site. We have shared ideas and sought feedback from our friends and supporters, through a consultation event at the Vice-Chancellor’s Summer Reception and a series of Lake House dinners; and we have tested emerging priorities with Senior Staff Conference, Education and Research Committees, Senate and Council.

I am very grateful to everyone who has contributed to this process: your ideas have been fundamental to shaping the direction of travel for the Strategy. As we prepare to move to the next phase of this work, it is a useful moment to share our thinking so far, and to invite your comments.

Essex Spirit

Our vision for 2025 will be rooted in our shared purpose as a community of staff and students advancing education and research excellence for the benefit of individuals and communities. Nurtured over 54 years, the core of our identity is our Essex Spirit. Key to this is a commitment to challenge, creativity and collaborative action, rooted in our global mind-set, enabled through our culture of membership and powered by our research mind-set.

Through the process of developing our next strategic plan, we have really challenged ourselves to think about what our students will need if we are to prepare them to succeed and thrive in their future lives, future careers and future learning. And we have challenged ourselves to think about how the University will enable every member of staff to fulfil their role in advancing the mission of the University. We know that it is more important than ever that we support every student, regardless of background, to develop the knowledge, skills and capabilities that they will need to succeed to realise their own Essex Spirit. We also know that it has never been more important to ask challenging research questions, test new ideas, and apply our knowledge to solve problems, to shape thinking and to benefit individuals and society.

Through our consultation events three priority areas have emerged to form the framework for our Strategy: People; Knowledge, ideas and Innovation; and Communities.

People

Our ‘Essex Spirit’ is defined by, and sustained through, our people: tenacious, bold, inquisitive, impatient for change; activists, advocates, entrepreneurs, and change-makers. At Essex, engaged students and staff have the courage to challenge received wisdom, ask difficult questions and apply their knowledge and ideas to improve people’s lives. Our educators are committed to student success and responsive to the living and learning needs of our diverse student communities. Our researchers are ambitious, curious, creative, entrepreneurial, ethical and experimental, advancing knowledge, generating ideas and applying their insights to transform communities and improve people’s lives.

Every member of our community has a crucial role to play in achieving our goals, working in creative partnership and learning from each other, sharing, collaborating and innovating to harness the power of new ideas.

Knowledge, Ideas and Innovation

At the heart of our mission of excellence in education and research is the creation, communication, transfer and application of knowledge, ideas and innovations. We have an enduring commitment to creating relevant, responsive and inclusive curricula, supporting our students through the multiple transitions of higher education, and enabling every student to develop their research mind-set – transitioning from knowledge and understanding to formulating their own ideas and putting these into action. We have an enduring commitment to generating globally important research that shapes and influences thinking and applies knowledge. Through our next Strategic Plan we will harness the power of new ideas to ensure that our campus environments and the services we deliver effectively enable our members to contribute towards achieving our shared aims.

Community

Throughout the consultation process, staff and students have highlighted the importance of our collective commitment to our shared purpose of excellence in research and education, and to putting our ideas into action through transformative education and research that improves people’s lives. We have also received valuable feedback on the importance of continuing to develop our campus communities as places of belonging, where students and staff are enabled by our physical, digital, natural and relational environments. Beyond our campus communities, members of the University have emphasised the importance they place on our relationships with the communities in which our campuses are set, and their pride in the impact of the University on the lives of people and communities, locally and globally.

On 2 November we shared details of our progress so far through the dedicated University Strategy 2019-25 Moodle site. Consultation on the direction of travel will remain open until 16 November. Feedback through this site will help to inform the first version of our Strategy, which will also be shared through the Moodle site in a second consultation period from 5 December to 14 December.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed ideas, insights and suggestions to get us to this stage. If you’d like to see more detail on our emerging Strategy, and to comment on our direction of travel so far, please log into the Moodle site to continue engaging with this important process or email me lfox@essex.ac.uk – I am keen to hear your views on how we can best position the University in the next six years.