Students Staff
University of Essex

May 31, 2019

Tackling sexual violence

Our Registrar, Bryn Morris, tells us more about the work the University is doing to ensure we all feel safe in our community. 

Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris.

There have been a number of complaints about the University’s handling of sexual assault cases by our students, as well as BBC coverage about an issue that is of vital importance to us all: ensuring we all feel safe, that our community is an inclusive and welcoming environment; and that we have a zero tolerance approach to all forms of sexual harassment and sexual violence. I want to provide an update on progress that we have made in addressing these issues and to set out where we have more work to do.

All cases that have been reported to us have been investigated and every effort has been made to support those involved. We have reviewed the cases highlighted by the BBC and have provided face-to-face advice and support to the students involved, including giving them information about reporting the incidents to the police. We have followed up with each student and carried out full investigations through our Student Conduct Office, based on our Code of Student Conduct.

I recognise that our procedures are overly complicated and bureaucratic; the time we have taken to resolve some of these cases has left students in a very difficult position and created uncertainty for them.  We know we need to do more to keep complainants up-to-date on our investigations. I apologise for this and I recognise that we must do better. Five specific issues have been raised:

Why have investigations taken so long?

Some of the cases in question are incredibly complex and our commitment to a thorough investigation of all the available evidence may have contributed to perceived delays. Our goal is to conclude every complaint within 60 calendar days, as recommended by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. In 2017-18 80% of complaints were resolved within this timeframe. Cases can sometimes be delayed due to ongoing police investigations, intermitting students or difficulty in reaching witnesses outside of term time. Whatever the reason, it is not acceptable that 20% of cases are not concluded within 60 days. We need to review how we further speed up the resolution of complaints and we will do so.

Why hasn’t the University encouraged students to report cases to the police?

Where students might have been subject to a crime, we want them to report incidents to the police. This is integral to our student support and student conduct protocols. We will review how advice is provided to students at every stage of our support and student conduct processes to ensure that students feel encouraged and supported in raising matters with the police. I want to encourage all students to report an incident. We have a number of routes for reporting:

What are you doing about the delays in dealing with complaints?

Our aim is to make it as straightforward as possible for members of our community to report unacceptable behaviour, including historical incidents. The introduction of the new Report and Support system, developed jointly with our Students’ Union has corresponded with an increase in the number of student conduct complaints requiring investigation. We have already allocated extra resource to enable the appointment of an Assistant Proctor for the start of the next academic year, which will speed up the handling of complaints. If we need to invest more to ensure timely handling of complaints, we will do so.

Why aren’t students being investigated or found guilty of sexual violence excluded from the University?

All conduct cases are investigated thoroughly and impartially, either immediately or once any police investigations have been concluded.  When an investigation identifies that there is a case to answer, serious cases are referred to a Student Conduct Committee comprising two members of academic staff and a student member, specially trained to undertake these roles.  The Committee decides whether the complaint is justified and if it is, what penalty should be imposed.  This can and does include expulsion but other sanctions may be imposed by the Committee.  In agreeing our new Code of Student Conduct, we will ensure that we provide greater clarity and transparency on the range of penalties that can apply in all types of conduct cases, including the most serious.

Is the University protecting its reputation rather than protecting students?

All conduct cases are investigated impartially and thoroughly with judgements reached based solely on the evidence available.  The University does not interfere in the progress of conduct cases or in their outcome.  Our current approach to handling complaints isn’t meeting the needs of our students and we will review this, ensuring students play a key role in the process.  We will also draw on external advice to make sure we get things right in future.  This open blog is part of a set of actions to acknowledge publicly that we need to do better.

Next Steps

  • We will introduce a new Code of Student Conduct prior to the start of autumn term 2019.
  • We will integrate feedback from students, the SU and the Women’s Officer in the SU, in the design of this system, to ensure it works for students and is easier to understand.
  • We will draw on independent external advice, to ensure we are creating a fair and transparent process, which supports students who make complaints.

Our goal is to ensure the University of Essex is an inclusive and welcoming environment and that we have zero tolerance to all forms of sexual harassment and violence. We have more work to do and I will keep you updated on a regular basis.

Bryn Morris

Registrar & Secretary

May 23, 2019

Academic Freedom and Inclusion

We are a University that values both academic freedom and inclusion. Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate), Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony, tells us more about how we balance the freedoms and responsibilities of these dual commitments in our community. 

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

Academic freedom and inclusion are dual commitments at the heart of our community. The founding charter of the University of Essex enshrines academic freedom within the law, stating that: ‘Academic staff shall have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.’ (University of Essex Royal Charter, paragraph 22).

Inclusion is also a fundamental value that underpins how we work at Essex, how we behave, and how we treat each other within our community. Our commitment to inclusion means that we value equally every member of our community. It means nurturing an environment in which every member feels safe, supported and able to reach their potential.

Our commitment to inclusion is also reflected in our openness to new ideas, to challenging, controversial or unpopular opinions. These twin commitments – to academic freedom and to inclusion regardless of backgrounds, characteristics, opinions or ideas – are also enshrined in law. Section 43 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986 requires all those concerned in the governance of universities to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students, employees and visiting speakers.

Living our values

In living up to our values of inclusion and academic freedom, a core underpinning principle is that these freedoms, values and responsibilities apply to all of us. This is why, as individuals and as a community, it is important for us to stand up for the rights of others to express (within the law) views that we may not share, as much as those we have in common. These equal freedoms are balanced by equal responsibilities: our commitment to inclusion demands that we exercise our freedoms responsibly, respectfully and with due regard to the values we share as a community.

Our values-led approach to academic freedom and inclusion is consistent with our legal obligations, which include an express duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the use of our premises is not denied to any individual or body on any ground connected with their beliefs or views, policy or objectives. This does not mean that any organisation or individual can speak at any university, nor does it mean that universities are required to invite anyone who wishes to speak onto our campuses. It means that we have a responsibility to take account of all of the freedoms and responsibilities at stake when making decisions about specific issues. We must also take into account the security of speakers and attendees at events and where we believe speakers will not operate within our code of practice, we do not support invitations to external speakers.

Fair and transparent decisions

The University’s dual commitments to academic freedom and inclusion also apply to the processes through which we appoint staff. Our University Ordinances (Ordinances 36, 37 and 38) set out the approach appointment panels take to ensure fair and transparent decisions based on criteria that apply to all. The University’s duty as an inclusive employer involves ensuring we make our judgements on transparent and evenly applied criteria, in a fair and objective way. This also aligns with our obligations under the Equality Act 2010, which sets out our responsibilities as individuals and as a University to be inclusive of all regardless of characteristics, beliefs or opinions.

Our regular ‘THINK’ seminars reflect our commitment to living these values by supporting students and staff to navigate difficult questions through discussion and engagement: exploring challenging views and unconventional ideas in an inclusive environment that is respectful to all. We all bear responsibilities in the ways that we exercise our freedoms and the THINK seminars provide an uplifting example of how passionately held views can be advocated with conviction on different sides of a debate in a manner that embodies the values that we are committed to upholding as a University community.

May 21, 2019

Our pledge to support students who don’t have family support

At Essex, we don’t want any of our students to feel alone and that’s why we’ve joined the Stand Alone initiative. Monica Illsley, our Chief of Staff, and Tancrede Chartier, the President of our Students’ Union explain how we support students who do not have families they can turn to for support and advice and how we can do more by working together.

How does it feel to stand alone as a student…to not be able to count on the support and approval of your family? This is the reality for students who, for one reason or another, have no contact with, and are ‘estranged’ from, their families. Yet, just like their peers, they want to succeed in life. They want to be able to pursue higher study, to experience student life to the full and, ultimately, to successfully complete a degree that will open up life opportunities for them.

At Essex, the University and Students’ Union work together to try to make all students feel welcome and to help all to achieve their full potential. That’s why we’ve signed the Stand Alone pledge – a nationwide initiative that aims to break down the barriers that can stand in the way of students who don’t have family support. We are the first university to have made a joint pledge with our students’ union.

In our Stand Alone pledge, we set out our commitment to supporting estranged students. But signing a pledge is the easy bit. Now we need to make sure that we are directing our students to resources that can help them and that we are providing the dedicated support they need.

We have started by publishing information for estranged students in one place including individualized advice, guidance and relevant specialist services that we hope will help these students to succeed in their studies. This includes, for example, named advisors to provide a first point of contact for support for each student who is without a family network, giving priority to their applications to our hardship fund to ease their financial concerns, and providing longer accommodation contracts if they need to bridge the gap between academic years.

But we are committed to doing more and want to encourage students without family support to make themselves heard and to seek support – both to improve their own chances of success but also to help us better understand their needs so that we can support others.

We’re training our staff to raise awareness, reviewing our bursary support and working on strengthening how we refer students to specialist support organisations but we need your help.

If you are a student who has no contact with your parents, please get in touch. We really want to ensure you are getting the support you need and to hear your views and gather ideas that will help inform our new Stand Alone action plan.

May 7, 2019

University Strategy AY 2019-25: Approved by Senate and Council

Our University Strategy is our road map for the future, setting out our priorities for the coming years. Following its formal approval by our Senate and Council, our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, tells us more about the Strategy and its vision for our future. 

I am delighted to share the news that our next University Strategy AY 2019-25 has been approved by the University’s Senate and Council. This is a product of generous input from staff and students in a process of creative collaboration across our campus communities during the last 14 months. The scale of this engagement is set out in more detail here. The work of Essex Partners in developing a Vision for The Future of Essex has also been an important context in which the development of our new Strategy has taken place and which we have benefited from. I want to take this opportunity to thank our staff and students, and particularly the Students’ Union, for your help in defining our ambitions for the next six years.

Our story so far

The current strategic plan period, AY 2013-19, has seen a range of outstanding achievements for the University.

  • We are now in a group of dual intensive universities recognised for excellence in education (Gold Award, TEF 2017) and excellence in research (top 20 in REF 2014).
  • We have successfully grown the University to 16,000 students, attracting talent from around the world to join our community and benefit from our distinctive Essex education
  • Growth of the University has enabled us to increase our research power, growing our community of researchers submissible to REF 2021 to almost double our submission in REF 2014.
  • We are recognised internationally for our globally important research with peaks of excellence in political science, social sciences, human rights and data analytics.
  • We’re in the top 30 of all UK universities thanks to the outstanding student experience we offer, strong graduate prospects, and world-leading research (TGUG 2019), and top 15 amongst mainstream English universities for overall student satisfaction (NSS, 2018).
  • We contribute more than £500m every year to the national and regional economy, and our Knowledge Gateway technology and research park is the location of choice for intelligent businesses who want to link up with our research expertise, graduate and student talent, and business support capabilities. We are top 5 in the UK for our technology-driven business partnerships (KTPs).
  • In 2018 we were awarded the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) award of University of the Year. The award citation recognised our commitment to putting student and staff success at the centre of everything we do, with tremendous effect.

Who we are and what we stand for

Throughout the process of developing our Strategy, our community of staff and students articulated a clear sense of who we are and what we stand for:

  • The distinctive mission and purpose of the University is clear: we are equally committed to excellence in education and research for the benefit of individuals and communities and society. We are proud to offer a transformational research-led education, welcoming students to the University on the basis of their potential and equipping them with the knowledge, skills and experiences that they will need to succeed and thrive in their future lives, future careers and future learning. We are proud that our research tackles challenging questions, negotiating the spaces between boundaries to shapes thinking, drive innovation and apply knowledge for the benefit of individuals and society.
  • The distinctive character of the University of Essex is clear: we are “freer, more daring, more experimental”; tenacious, bold, inquisitive, and impatient for change. Our Essex Spirit is nurtured by our global community and outlook, enabled through our culture of belonging and membership and powered by our research mind-set.
  • We are clear about what we stand for: inclusion, academic freedom, partnerships based on shared values, and the commitment to make a difference in the world by putting ideas into action to create benefit for others.

What’s new in our University Strategy 2019-25?

As we embark on our next strategic plan period, we are looking to the future with confidence, optimism and conviction: ready to meet the challenges and harness the opportunities of the coming period.

Our vision

  • Building on our commitment to be firmly established in the top 25 of the TGUG (Key Performance Indicator 1), we have set ourselves a new challenge: to be globally recognised as one of the world’s top 200 Universities (KPI 2).
  • Building on our commitments to transformational education and inclusion, we are determined to offer consistently excellent learning opportunities for every student, responding to the needs and aspirations of our diverse student community. We will support every student, from every background, to achieve outstanding outcomes (KPI1, KPI3, KPI 6).
  • Social action will be the defining characteristic of Essex education and research. We have articulated more strongly and clearly the purpose of our commitment to excellence in education and research: to improve the lives of people and communities. This builds on the importance that our staff and students place on advocacy, activism, social entrepreneurship and service to our communities.
  • We will aim to grow the University to a community of about 20,000 students and 1,000 academic researchers submissible to the REF, including two new departments or disciplines to meet the needs of our time. This will generate the resources to realise our ambitions for world-class transformational education and research, and to ensure the financial sustainability of the University.

Our priorities

To achieve this vision, we have adopted three priorities:

  1. People
  2. Knowledge
  3. Communities

People: We will put people (staff and students) at the centre of everything we do. We recognise the contributions that every member of our community makes to realising our vision and ambitions, and we will seek to realise the full potential of every member of our community in contributing to transformational education and research and in creating the environments in which these are made possible.

Knowledge: Our people are focused on creating, communicating and applying knowledge, ideas and innovation. From education and student experiences to research and enterprise, the environments in which we live, learn and work and the services we deliver, we will harness the power of new ideas and knowledge to identify the most effective ways of achieving our shared aims.

Communities: Serving our communities through transformational education and research that meets the needs of our time remains at the heart of our mission. We will ensure that our campus communities foster a sense of belonging, well-being, inclusion and purpose, support our connections with each other and with our global and regional partners and engage our students, staff, alumni and partners in collective action to create benefit for people and communities in our region and around the world.

Next Steps

In the coming months, we will formally launch our new Strategy internally and externally with partners, to ensure that our vision and priorities over the next six years are widely disseminated and well understood.  We will also turn our attention to developing our Education Strategy, Research Strategy, Supporting Strategies and sub-strategies. Together, these strategies will form an integrated plan that will determine how we prioritise our efforts and investments, to enable us to realise our vision for the University between 2019 and 2025.

I would like to thank you again for your support in developing our University Strategy and look forward to working with you on putting words into action over the next six years.

Anthony Forster