Essex is named ‘University of the Year’

Sandi Toksvig (L) and Graham Cooper, head of education, Capita (R) present the award to Students Un

Sandi Toksvig (L) and Graham Cooper, head of education, Capita (R) present the award to Students Union President Tancrede Chartier and University Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster - Credit: Archant

The University of Essex’s radical past helped it snag the title ‘University of the Year.’

University of Essex campus

University of Essex campus - Credit: Archant

The university received the prestigious accolade at The Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2018, which are now in their fourteenth year and widely referred to as the ‘Oscars of higher education’,

Essex’s strategy has drawn inspiration from its 55-year history of being on the side of the ‘radical’, of not falling victim to ‘group think’.

In the sixties, Colchester-based institution was known as a hotbed of student politics.

Essex claims that its teaching 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.

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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.

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“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.”

Essex follows a strategy to recruit students on the basis of potential rather than just prior achievement, as it reconnected with its founding vision and values.

It was the first university to take action to close the gender pay gap for staff, ensuring no pay gap across all grades.

One of the awards judges said: “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’.”

Essex also claims to have 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 welcomed record number of students this academic year, attracted record levels of research funding and is now the leading university in London and the south east for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships - Innovate UK’s flagship programme. It has invested more than £50m into creating the Knowledge Gateway research and technology park at its Colchester Campus.

Essex Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster said: “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.”

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