The inspiration offered by the University of Essex’s radical past helped it secure the title of University of the Year at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2018.
The awards, now in their 14th year and widely referred to as the 'Oscars of higher education', shine a spotlight on the exceptional achievements of individuals, teams and institutions working in our sector today.
One of the Times Higher Education Awards judges said: “This is a university that is putting people first. The gender pay gap exists everywhere, but this university said what no one else dared to say: ‘There is an easy way to get rid of the pay gap – spend the money necessary to get rid of it. And do it now’.”
This observation touches on one of the numerous bold initiatives taken by Essex as it reconnected with its founding vision and values.
How has Essex done this? “By putting students and staff success at the centre of what we do, with tremendous effect”. Essex has been unabashed in its strategy to recruit students on the basis of potential rather than just prior achievement, and this has helped it to fulfil its potential.
Essex has delivered on its pledge to value staff in concrete ways, including a systematic decasualisation of the workforce, through pay equality and with staff contracts for graduate teaching assistants.
Essex Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster said: "This award recognises the impact of our amazing staff and students, the quality of our relationship with our Students’ Union and the strength of our national, regional and global partnerships.
“Founded as a progressive university, at Essex we are prepared to stand out from the crowd - and challenging convention is in our DNA. We are a community of talented, committed people, a university that is putting our staff and students first, and home to those who want to make the world a better place.
“I am delighted the award of University of the Year recognises these values and the achievements of our community of members.”
Students’ Union President Tancrede Chartier: “This award highlights the incredible qualities and achievements of Essex students, past and present, and the way our unique partnership with the University puts students at the heart of everything that happens at Essex.
"The University has the most brilliant, daring and bold students – students that are prepared to challenge the status quo and fight for what’s right - and we are all feeling justifiably proud today”
Essex’s strategy has drawn inspiration from its history of being on the side of the 'radical', of not falling victim to 'group think'; Essex’s focus on teaching and learning is transforming the lives of a growing student body of whom more than a third are from families with an annual income of less than £25,000.
The judges felt Essex had every right to claim to be a “home for staff and students who want to make the world a better place”.
THE editor John Gill said: “At a time when universities face challenges and headwinds, when politics and social attitudes can seem to call into question many of the things that they stand for and hold dear, it is particularly important to champion the values, creativity and dedication of those who live and breathe higher education.
"As ever, our shortlists represent the best of the best, but our judges also reported that this year’s entries were the strongest that they could remember, so all those honoured should be incredibly proud. It's THE's great honour to help celebrate their success.”
Why we were named University of the Year
Essex is going from strength to strength - welcoming record number of students this academic year and also attracting record levels of research funding.
Being named University of the Year is just our latest accolade after we maintained our top 30 ranking in the The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, 12 months after we were shortlisted for University of the Year by the Guide too.
We're seen as a sector leader on key issues including being the first university to take action to close the gender pay gap for staff, ensuring no pay gap across all grades.
At the same time we're also one of just a handful of universities to be recognised by the Government assessments of excellence in both education and research.
Essex is one of only a handful of 'dual intensive' universities meaning we're ranked in the top 25% for both research quality (Research Excellence Framework) and the quality of our education (Teaching Excellence Framework).
We've also developed an innovative approach to working with business and external partners, becoming the leading university in London and the south east for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships - Innovate UK's flagship programme.
Essex is also the first university to appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser to a County Council and has invested more than £50m into creating the Knowledge Gateway research and technology park at its Colchester Campus.
Confirming Essex’s global reputation, the Times Higher Education World Rankings 2019 placed Essex in the top 300 and 14th for international outlook, with Social Sciences ranked in the top 50.