Students Staff
University of Essex

December 14, 2018

Celebrating our University of the Year with a year of celebrations

Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris, tells us what we’ve got planned to celebrate the title of University of the Year.

Bryn Morris

Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris

Our University won the prestigious title of University of the Year as a result of the hard work and dedication of every member of our community.

It is through our combined efforts and our shared commitment that we have seen our achievements recognised – and so by way of thanks and celebration, we are organising a year full of events.

And to begin our year of revelling with a bang, I want to announce that we will be giving everyone an extra day of annual leave.

The additional day will be given to all staff at all our campuses including our Students’ Union and Campus Services staff. The extra day should be taken during the year in which we are University of the Year i.e. between December 2018 and November 2019. The addition will be added to each member of staff’s leave allocation for 2018/19 and if not taken will be rolled forward into 2019/20.

And the fun doesn’t stop there. We have a host of other celebrations in store for the coming year, including:

• A celebratory tea party at each of our three campuses
• Free ice cream, music and games at our summer picnic
• University of the Year themed Celebrating Excellence events for both academic and professional services colleagues
• A University of the Year badge on all our Graduation materials
• A free Students’ Union event for our students

We’ll be looking to add University of the Year twists to other events throughout the year.

Recognising the contributions of all members of our community in these ways is incredibly important. We’ve achieved this accolade by putting people first and so I hope that everyone will be able to take part in and enjoy our year of celebrations.

December 6, 2018

Celebrating Excellence at the Vice-Chancellor’s Christmas Reception 2018

The annual Christmas Reception is a chance for our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, to say a personal thank you to everyone for their hard work and dedication throughout the year. Read his speech here and take a look at the photos on Flickr.

I just want to take a few moments to thank you all for your contribution to the success of the University over the last year.

People at the reception

The VC’s Christmas reception is a chance for celebration and recognition of everyone’s hard work throughout the year.

And what a year it has been! I think many of us are still reeling from the award last week of the wonderful title of University of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards 2018. We knew in our heart of hearts, as we put together the submission, that we were worthy of the accolade but to actually be named ‘University of the Year’ and to have experienced the tremendous positive response that we’ve had from students, staff, friends and supporters across the sector and beyond, has been life-enhancing.

I am incredibly proud of our achievements and each of you is here today because you have been a part of this success. You have achieved excellence and through your actions, demonstrated the Essex spirit over the course of the last year. This event is about saying thank you and congratulations to you all.

I’m not intending to speak for long so will not be able to name check all the various teams and individuals from academic departments, professional services and the Students’ Union across our three campuses who are here today, but you’ll see that, as has become the tradition, we’ve tried to capture all your various contributions and successes on the powerpoint presentation running on the screens around us.

Some of you are here in recognition of the valuable contribution that you have made to the research mission of the University

  • by undertaking and publishing research of the highest quality
  • by continuing to apply for and secure significant external funding
  • by being recognised through fellowships and other professional recognition
  • by sharing your work through public lectures and events, and
  • by winning prestigious national and international awards.

I also want:

  • to congratulate those of you who have been promoted this year
  • to thank those who have been instrumental in the establishment of our 21st academic department The Edge Hotel School; and of the University of Essex International College
  • those of you who have been instrumental in the planning, building and successful operation of our fantastic new STEM building
  • those of you who have work tirelessly in planning and delivering open days and applicant visit days and in other marketing, student recruitment, admissions, and registrations roles resulting in another record year for us in terms of achieving our growth ambitions
  • Library colleagues who have continued to innovate in all sorts of different ways and who have made our 24/7 Library a reality
  • Staff and students from across the University who rallied round in all sorts of ways to support our University of the Year submission and ‘inspection visit’
  • And all our fabulous students who remind us each and every day why we’re all here.

Finally, I would like to thank our Students’ Union President, Tanki, and the superb team of sabbatical officers. And also the SU permanent staff for their energy and sustained commitment to supporting the sabbatical officers and providing the continuity that is essential in maintaining the sector-leading Students’ Union that we are so proud of.

So thank you all personally and on behalf of ‘the University of the Year’  – no less – for making our success possible through your hard work, dedication and commitment throughout another fantastic year.

I hope that you enjoy the evening and I wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year.

Thank you.

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


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.


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.


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 – I am keen to hear your views on how we can best position the University in the next six years.

October 19, 2018

Fairness should lie at the heart of any funding reform

Universities owe it to students to create a transparent and fair higher education funding model – our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, tells Times Higher Education.

The current review of post-18 education and funding aspires to be comprehensive, yet it would appear to be missing the views of students studying at university, even though it is students as a community who have the most direct experience of how the current system operates and it is their voices that should be helping to shape the funding of higher education.

Through a survey undertaken by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), we now have robust evidence on student understanding of the current fees and loans system. It is clear that the system is too complex for students to fully understand its ramifications. While some features are well understood by most, other features generate confusion.

Students have also shared their insights into the trade-offs they would be willing to accept. If tuition fees cannot be scrapped altogether, then the headline cost to students pursuing different subjects should remain the same. Students are strongly against differentiation of fees between subjects – even if they would expect personally to benefit from lower fees.

Irrespective of their own family income, students have said that they are strongly in favour of those from lower-income households receiving more financial support during their studies. They also prefer to receive more support for living costs through the reintroduction of maintenance grants, but they are not prepared to pay for it by increasing their debt.

They are particularly anxious about the prospect of the debt continuing to grow after they have graduated, and they are worried about facing a significant repayment burden on their fees and loans when their incomes might be low.

The views expressed in the ISER survey offer valuable insights into how the current system should be reformed.

There should be no fee differentiation by course on the basis of cost to teach or in relation to graduate earnings. Variable course fees would: fail to recognise the integral contribution that pan-university activities make to students’ learning; undermine the ability of universities to undertake outreach and engage with low-participation communities; and diminish the scope for universities to ensure that their research activities feed directly into the educational experience.

Varying course fees on the basis of graduate earnings is equally flawed. Jobs with a high social value such as nursing and teaching do not always pay well, but they require highly skilled individuals. Forcing universities to charge less for these courses would threaten their quality. If graduates pay back less of their fees after graduation because they are in high-value but lower-paid jobs, this should not be seen as failure in the system, but a greater collective investment in essential professional education for jobs that are equally valued by our society, even if their market remuneration is different.

The reintroduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students – scrapped in 2016 and replaced by loans – would address a student concern about taking on more debt. It would also be an important step in promoting social mobility and ensuring that all students can access the full benefits of a university education. Students are clear that they would like more support for their living costs, but are adamant that they do not want to have higher fees or higher repayment rates after they graduate.

By contrast, students have signalled a willingness to take on a higher debt at the point they graduate in return for, first, deferring the start of loan repayments until they are better able to afford them, and second, being charged a less steep schedule of interest rates after graduation.

The claim that lower-earning graduates are less likely to pay off their loan prior to the 30-year cut-off point overlooks student concerns about debt loading. While higher interest rates have been leveraged to create a more progressive repayment schedule, the fact that for most graduates the amount of debt will persist or even grow for a long time creates substantial anxiety.

Finally, it is clear that while the headline features of the current system are understood, the detailed operation is not. We see that students change their opinions about what features of the system they favour once they are presented with their financial implications. This clearly suggests that we need a funding system that is easier to understand – and seen by students to be affordable.

Intergenerational fairness is best served by older people making some sort of contribution through general taxation and the fees regime, so that younger people can benefit from a university education – in a context where those in the older generation who went to university benefited from free education. This would also provide demonstrable support to the next generation for the wider public benefits of having highly educated graduates in our society. Through this review, the government really does have a significant opportunity to create a more equitable and more sustainable way to fund university education.

Professor Anthony Forster


University of Essex

July 19, 2018

Belonging – a work in progress…

An image of Sasha Roseneil

Professor Sasha Roseneil

Will I fit in?

Will I meet people I can relate to?

Will I make friends?

How long will it feel uncomfortable for?

When will it all become familiar and normal to be here?

Will I lose touch with where I came from, my friends and family?

Do I have to stop being me and become someone different in order to belong here?

These are some of the questions that run through our minds when we start somewhere new. Going to university is one of the biggest transitions we make in our lives. Not only does it mean, for most students, moving away from home, sometimes to a new country, and leaving behind family and friends, but it also means encountering multiple new groups of people. There is a group of flat or housemates to get to know. There are much larger groups of fellow students on your course and in your department, and then smaller groups taking particular modules and in seminars. There are groups of varying size in the clubs, societies and sports teams that you think about joining. Everywhere you go, university is about groups.

But joining a group isn’t easy. Everyone – yes, everyone – finds it difficult, however confident and at ease they seem to be.

As human beings we are fundamentally social beings. We need to feel attachment, not just to a small number of intimate others – our immediate family and close friends – but to the people we meet out there in the world, away from home. We need to feel connected to wider networks, to intermediate groups, to the institutions and communities of which we become part, and to society more generally. To belong is a basic human need.

It might seem, therefore, that belonging should come naturally, that it should just happen. And to some extent it does. Over time, new people and strange places become familiar. We recognise faces in the crowd. We find the people we can relate to. We start to understand the culture. We learn the rhythms of our new life. We settle in. And suddenly, one day, we realise that it feels ok. Or better. It’s feels good to be here.

But before that happens, it often feels uncomfortable, unsettling, or worse. We might feel alienated and alone. We might feel utterly separate and different from everyone else. We might feel that no one notices us, or recognises us for who we are. We might feel lost in the crowd and that we do not belong.

In my work as a group analyst, I run therapy groups, and I have spent many years witnessing up close the struggles that people have in joining a group. They want to join the therapy group. They have chosen to do it. They think it’s the right thing to do at this point in their lives, and they are committing to do it. It will cost them time and money. It will involve sacrifice. But they think it will be worthwhile. They hope that they will learn and change through it. Yet, still it is a deeply ambivalent process. It is scary, at times, to even show up, let alone to speak.  The whole thing feels odd and unnatural. They experience strong psychological urges to resist really joining the group and connecting with the other members. They focus on how different they are from everyone else in the group, and how impossible it is that anyone will understand them. Paradoxically, they also fear that they will merge with the group and lose their own identity, that they will change too much, and no longer recognise themselves, that they will become distant from the people who matter to them. So they back away from the group. They don’t participate. They are late. They miss sessions. They start wondering if it was a good idea in the first place. They undermine the very thing that they wanted to do, and the hope that they were investing in it for the future.

Now, a therapy group is certainly not the same as a group of flatmates, or a seminar group, or a university club or sports team. But there is the same basic, powerful tension at work for us, whatever group we are entering, between wanting to be part of the group and wanting not to be. We are all, when we join a new group, unconsciously torn between the desire to fit in, to be accepted by, to bond with the other members, and the desire to maintain our separateness, our difference and individuality. And that tension can be difficult to live with. It can be painful. It can sabotage our best intentions.

But, the good news is that if we recognise this, if we acknowledge that it is difficult to join a new group, and that we are not the only one feeling this, it can and does become easier. If we manage to stick with it, if we tolerate the early period of discomfort, then the feelings change. If we summon up the courage to say hello, if we dare to smile, if we risk sharing something of ourselves with people we don’t yet know, we will be rewarded. If we look for groups of potentially like-minded people, as well as challenging ourselves to reach out to people we think we have little in common with, we will find ourselves connecting. Because, if we participate, we will become part of things. We won’t agree with everyone we encounter. We won’t become best friends with everyone we meet. We might not even like everyone or everything we try our hand at. And that’s ok.

Gradually, over time, we start to feel at home. We start to feel like we belong.

Welcome to Essex. We are a diverse and friendly community, and you don’t have to stop being you to be one of us. Be brave, be you, and, in time, belong!

Sasha Roseneil is a group analyst and a sociologist. She is Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and a Professor in the Department of Sociology.

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.


« Newer PostsOlder Posts »