Students Staff
University of Essex

January 31, 2020

The UK’s departure from the European Union

At 23.00 GMT on 31 January 2020 the UK formally left the European Union and entered an 11-month transition period while negotiations over future relationships continue. Over the last three and half years, I have had many conversations with staff, students and our alumni about Brexit. I know that for some it will be a traumatic moment – a rupture in a relationship between the UK and EU 27 countries and a source of profound fear and uncertainty. I fully recognise that for others, Brexit is the right response to the outcome of the June 2016 referendum, subsequently endorsed in the December 2019 General Election. Whichever way you feel, it will be a moment to chart a new course for the UK.

We are one of the most international universities in the world, benefiting from a high proportion of international staff and students who enrich our lives in a myriad of ways, and help make the University of Essex the very special place that it is. We will face many issues but, for me, how we respond to three particular challenges will be important:

Continuing to be a beacon of internationalism and cosmopolitan values

First, our University needs to continue to be a beacon of internationalism and cosmopolitan values – and a vocal and passionate advocate for these values locally, regionally and nationally. We must re-double our efforts to make and re-state this commitment whenever and however we can. I see this as a personal priority, but I hope it will be a priority for others too.

Students at our Colchester Campus

Students at our Colchester Campus

Continuing to seize opportunities for European collaboration

Second, after Brexit, we must continue to seize opportunities for European collaboration to advance the mission of the University. I have said in a Guardian article that the UK’s strength in science is because of the EU – not in spite of it. For universities to thrive, we need government policies to ensure we remain a global destination of choice for talented students, academics and professionals from the EU 27 who choose the UK as their preferred intellectual home.

In the transition period from February to December 2020, our staff will be able to apply for EU grants including Horizon 2020, ERC grants and Marie Skłodowska Curie actions – and when it comes to Horizon Europe the UK government wants to explore ‘as full an association as possible’. The Minister for Higher Education has said: ‘…we may be leaving the EU but we will not be leaving our European research partnerships behind.’ We need to ensure this is the case and our involvement in European networks through YERUN  and  YUFE are part of this. A small positive step that I would encourage you to consider is to add the YERUN and YUFE logos to your email signatures.

In the transition period, students from EU 27 countries will have access to English loans and will be eligible to pay the Home Fee of £9,250 for entry in October 2020 and for the duration of their study with us. We need to make sure we continue to publicise this – and signal that we really welcome students from the EU who add so much to the life of the University and the local communities of which they are a part. During the transition period, the UK will continue to participate in Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes. The Government has said it remains open to participation in Erasmus+ and values international student exchanges. We want to continue to be vocal advocates for very close UK engagement in Erasmus+ programmes.

I firmly believe that we do not need to choose between close engagement with European countries and the EU 27, or a global orientation. Alongside developing our partnerships with European countries through initiatives such as YERUN and YUFE we are re-doubling our efforts in promoting global engagement and our international partnerships work. This is a commitment already contained in our new Strategic Plan 2019-2025 and our new Partnerships Sub-Strategy will play an important part in shaping our priorities and focus on this.

Offering expertise that will make a difference

Third, in the coming years, I want us to be as relevant as we can be to debates about issues we care about, offering expertise that will make a difference and views that matter. We need to do this locally, regionally, nationally and globally. To paraphrase Geoffrey James, it is our actions that make us relevant to others: our capacity for authenticity, mastery and empathy having maximum effect when put into action.

I know this is a difficult moment for many of us. Now more than ever, I hope that we can draw on the very many positive aspects of our strong sense of being an Essex living and learning community. And as a community, I really hope that we can look out for each other – and offer support and encouragement where we can.

Anthony Forster

January 17, 2020

Tackling the gender pay gap – update

We are committed to pay equality at our University. Here, our Director of People & Culture, Susie Morgan, gives an update on our continuing work in this area. 

Susie Morgan

Susie Morgan, our Director of People & Culture.

The publication of our third annual gender pay gap report (to be published soon) is a key moment to review our progress in relation to equal pay and to apply best practice in shaping our commitment to rewarding staff fairly, based on their contribution regardless of their personal characteristics.

There are a range of dimensions to the gender pay gap: ensuring equal pay for work of equal value, so that women and men get paid the same for similar work; and closing the overall pay gap (defined as the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings across the organisation).

On the first dimension, our regular equal pay audits have confirmed that by grade and across all grades, we have no significant gender pay gaps between women and men and there is equal pay for work of equal value. On the second dimension, between 2013 and 2019, our institutional mean gender pay gap (which is a measure of the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings across the University), has reduced by 8.3% (from 24.8% to 16.5%). Our institutional median gender pay gap is currently 16.2%. This represents good progress, but it is not acceptable to have any gaps at all.

Over the last three years, we have been working hard to delve deeper into the data. We know that the gap arises from the uneven distribution of men and women across grades and that we have a much higher percentage of female staff working at lower grades and a higher percentage of male staff at higher grades. We also know there are many other reasons that lead to a gender pay gap – and that we need to tackle these.

In order to identify where further progress can be made, we have therefore looked at pay gaps within sections and departments and by job families i.e. academic staff and professional services staff.

This analysis has revealed that the main driver of the gender pay gap (men’s and women’s average earnings) is large numbers of male staff in highly paid academic roles. If the five academic departments with the largest gender pay gap were removed from the calculation, the mean gender pay gap would reduce to 13.2% and the median to 11.1%. In these departments, the percentage of female staff decreases sharply at higher grades. We also know that sections/departments with more equally balanced numbers of men and women across all grades have lower pay gaps.

Future Actions

Athena Swan Bronze Award

Look out for our new Athena SWAN-inspired Essex Diversity Impact Award Scheme.

One option provided for in the Equality Act 2010 is for positive action to be taken at the point of offering employment. This means that when a panel considers that two (or more) candidates are of equal merit, the panel can select a candidate from a particular group that is under-represented. This approach might provide an opportunity for departments with large imbalances in the gender distribution of academic staff, to address this – and to this end HR will be providing guidance on how this might be taken forward.

Another option is to have a better balance between males and females.  If a department currently has 80% male academic staff and 20% female academic staff, we think our aspiration should be to have 60% males and 40% females. Our HR teams will provide each department with the necessary information to support their decision-making. We think a 60/40 distribution – whilst not ideal – will be an improvement and something to aspire to. Our ultimate long-term target is a 50/50 distribution, but this does not currently reflect trends in the sector or the UK overall.

Whilst the focus of this work requires us to consider gender as binary, we know that many members of our community identify outside the gender binary and/or as trans. We are committed to continuing to work to create an environment that is truly inclusive for everyone regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, age or disability status. I would really like to encourage you to engage in Athena SWAN work going on in your department and, if you work in a professional services section, to look out for our new Athena SWAN-inspired Essex Diversity Impact Award Scheme.

Like many, I was shocked by recent incidents involving the removal and defacing of posters in support of LGBT+ people. Their removal or defacement is utterly unacceptable and I want to encourage you to play whatever part you can, in making clear that we are community where everyone is accepted without exception.