University of Essex

The University of Essex is a public research university in Essex, England. It was established in 1963, welcomed its first students in 1964 and received its royal charter in 1965. Essex's motto, ’Thought the harder, heart the keener’, is adapted from the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon.

University of Essex
MottoThought the harder, heart the keener
Established1964 - beginning of first academic year
1965 - gained university status by royal charter
Endowment£9.5 million (2017-18 - includes endowments and restricted reserves)[1]
ChancellorJohn Bercow
Vice-ChancellorAnthony Forster
Academic staff
843 including research staff (2017-18)[1]
Administrative staff
1,063 full-time equivalent (2017-18)[1]
Students14,760 (2017-18)[2]
Undergraduates11,370 (2017-18)[2]
Postgraduates3,390 (2017-18)[2]
Location, ,
CampusWivenhoe Park – over 200 acres. Also campuses in Southend and Loughton
Colours         Red and black
NicknameThe Essex Blades[3]
AffiliationsEastern ARC
Young European Research Universities Network
Young Universities for the Future of Europe

Essex's largest campus is the Colchester Campus within Wivenhoe Park, less than a mile (1.6 km) from Wivenhoe and two miles (3 km) from Colchester. There is also a campus in Southend-on-Sea and East 15 Acting School is based at the Loughton Campus. Essex has 19 academic partnerships in the UK and around the world[4]. UK partnerships include University of Essex Online with Kaplan Open Learning; Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and University of Essex International College. International partnerships include a franchise arrangement with Kaplan Singapore and double and dual degrees with several universities in Europe and Asia.[5] This includes a double degree with Northwest University in Xi'an approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Essex is ranked 251–300 in the world by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020[6] and 37th in the UK in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020.[7] Essex was named University of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards in 2018.[8] The Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014 ranked Essex in the top 20 universities in the UK for the quality of its research and the top 5 for social science.[9] Essex is in the top 50 for the social sciences and 51st for law in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019 by subject.[10][11]

Essex is one of eight young universities which are part of the Young Universities for the Future of Europe alliance, which was selected by the European Commission to create one of the first European Universities[12], cross-border alliances of higher education institutions created to promote staff and student mobility. Essex is also a founding partner of the Young European Research Universities network.

Essex has produced many notable alumni in several fields, including two Nobel laureates, a head of state, foreign ministers, MPs, scientists, artists, and politicians.



The University of Essex is one of the seven original 'plate glass universities' established between 1961 and 1965. The term refers to their modern architectural design.

In July 1959, Essex County Council accepted a proposal from Alderman Leatherland that a university be established in the county. A University Promotion Committee was formed chaired by Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Sir John Ruggles-Brise, which submitted a formal application to the University Grants Committee requesting that a University of Essex should be established. Initial reports suggested that the Promotion Committee had recommended Hylands Park in Chelmsford as the site for the new university, however in May 1961, the foundation of the university was announced in the House of Commons with Wivenhoe as the preferred location and in December of the same year, Wivenhoe Park was acquired for the new university. In July 1962, Albert Sloman, Gilmour Professor of Spanish and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Liverpool, was appointed as Vice-Chancellor and R. A. Butler, was invited to be Chancellor, with Anthony Rowland-Jones appointed as Registrar.

The first Professors were appointed in May 1963: Alan Gibson in Physics, Peter Townsend in Sociology, Donald Davie in Literature, Richard Lipsey in Economics, Ian Proudman in Mathematics, Jean Blondel in Government, and John Bradley in Chemistry. With its first staff appointed, a development plan for the university was published and a £1million Appeal Fund was launched. Within six months the Appeal Fund had exceeded its £1million target with The Queen Mother and Sir Winston Churchill among contributors, while work began on clearing the site for building work. In Autumn 1963, red was chosen as the university colour and the first prospectus was prepared and work began on the first permanent buildings; the science block and boiler room next to Wivenhoe House. In January 1964, Hardy Amies designed the university's academic robes and temporary teaching huts had to be erected close to Wivenhoe House, while in March Sir John Ruggles-Brise was appointed the first Pro-Chancellor and Alderman Leatherland the first Treasurer of the university. Two months later the university's Armorial Bearings were published, with the motto "Thought the harder, heart the keener".

Expansion during the 1960s

In October 1964, the first 122 students[13] arrived with 28 teaching staff in three schools: Comparative Studies, Physical Sciences and Social Studies. Departments of Chemistry, Physics, Government, Sociology, Literature, Mathematics and Economics opened along with the Language Centre (later the Department of Language and Linguistics) and the Computing Centre (later the Department of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering) with Denis Mesure elected as the first President of the Students' Council. Work started on the first residential tower, Rayleigh, in December with The Queen approving the grant of Charter to take effect from 11 January 1965.

1965 brought 399 students enrolling for the start of the new academic year; the number of academic staff more than doubled to 61; and the first degrees, five MSc and five MA degrees were awarded. The Physics building opened and the first six floors of Rayleigh tower were ready for occupation, while work began on the Albert Sloman Library. The first female lecturer was appointed: Dorothy E. Smith in the Department of Sociology. In December, University Court met for the first time with around 500 members. Six months later, work started on the Lecture Theatre Building and the 'Topping out' ceremony took place for Keynes tower.

In October 1966, the Hexagon Restaurant and General Store opened, with the number of students reaching 750. Lord Butler was installed as Chancellor at a ceremony held in Colchester's Moot Hall in 1967 and the first Honorary Degrees were presented, the university's mace was carried for the first time, while the first annual Degree Congregation saw 135 degrees conferred in July. At the start of the next academic year, the departments of Computer Science and Electronic Systems Engineering accepted their first students, the SSRC Data Bank (later renamed the UK Data Archive) was established and the Lecture Theatre Building and Library opened along with the first phase of the Social and Comparative Studies building, while work proceeded on Tawney and William Morris residential towers.

May 1968 protests

The University of Essex was at the forefront of 1960s student unrest. At a time of worldwide protest against the Vietnam War, the student movement was taking off all over the world. In March 1968, a demonstration against a visit to the university by Enoch Powell received national publicity. Seven students were summoned to disciplinary hearings but student sit-ins prevented these hearings taking place.

On Tuesday, 7 May 1968, Dr Thomas Inch from Porton Down came to give a lecture at the university. In a carefully planned demonstration, an indictment was read out as Inch attempted to speak, citing chemical and biological warfare activities at Porton Down. University authorities called in police with dogs, probably for the first time in an English university. Students outnumbered police and managed to prevent arrests.

On Friday, 10 May, three students, Pete Archard, Raphael Halberstadt and David Triesman (now Lord Triesman) were suspended and ordered off the campus. No evidence or charges were notified to the students, and no opportunity was given for the students to present their defence.

The university's magazine, Wyvern,[14] reported that on Monday, 13 May, "Students picket all entrances to the university from early morning distributing leaflets calling all students and staff to meeting to discuss suspension of the three students. A huge meeting attended by nearly all the university population, voted overwhelmingly to refuse to participate in the university – in its place a Free University was declared ". After a week the three students were reinstated.[15]

Many Essex students joined protests in Paris over the summer of 1968 and unrest on the Colchester campus continued into 1969.[16][17]

The 1970s and the 1980s

Between the 1970s and the 1980s, the university added a health centre, day nursery, printing centre, bookstore, exhibition gallery and expanded the current student residences. New student residences were also constructed. The departments of philosophy, school of law, human rights centre and the department of biological sciences were opened.

In the late 1970s, financial problems plagued the university and threatened its existence. During this later period of the 70s to the early 80s, the university began concentrating its teaching into large departments. Cooperation with local companies was forged, allowing the university to secure vital research contracts. Due to its growing international reputation, the university began to attract a sizable number of International students.[18]

In 1987 Martin Harris was appointed Vice-Chancellor, taking over from the founding Vice-Chancellor, Albert Sloman. Also, in this year, University of Essex alumnus Oscar Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The 1990s

The university entered the 1990s with the expansion of its facilities, adding new residential blocks to provide further living space for its student population between 1991 and 1992. The Rab Butler Building was opened in 1991 as the headquarters for the British Household Panel Survey. By its 30th anniversary in 1993, the university had built itself up into 17 key departments, providing education and research opportunities for 5,500 students, and employing 1,300 staff and faculty. The university also contained 5 industrial units and housed the Economic and Social Research Council-funded UK Data Archive. Further expansion continued to take place after 1993, with the £5.5 million expansion scheme for the provision of 234 new apartments for 1,200 students in a new student village.[19]

The 2000s

On 25 November 2004, Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the university as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations (1964–2004). Some of the longest running members of staff were invited to meet them at the presentation including the first student, John M. Dowden. Starting postgraduate research on fluid dynamics at the age of 23 in 1963, John later became a professor of mathematics and was the head of the Mathematics Department from 2001–2005. He retired in September 2008.

The university continued to expand. At the Colchester Campus, the Network Centre building opened in May 2004 housing the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering and parts of the Department of Computer Science (which merged in 2007 to create the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering). University Quays, a student accommodation complex housing 770 students, opened in September 2003.

The Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall, with a 1,000 seat capacity, opened in 2006.[20][21] The building was designed by the architect Patel Taylor and attracted a mixed response. Prince Charles referred to it as 'like a dustbin',[22] while the Civic Trust, a charity of which he is patron, awarded it a Civic Trust award (2008) for making 'an outstanding contribution to the quality and appearance of the environment'.[23] The building was named after Sir Ivor Crewe in April 2007, to mark his retirement from the position of vice chancellor, a position he had held since 1995.[24]

The Gateway Building at the Southend Campus was opened in January 2007, providing facilities for Essex Business School, East 15 Acting School and the School of Health and Social Care plus a business incubation centre. The university also converted a former church into the Clifftown Studios to provide East 15 students with a theatre, studios and workshop spaces. This means the university has an operating theatre at each of its three campuses.[25]

Social Science Research Centre was completed in February 2007, housing the Institute for Social and Economic Research and the UK Data Archive. A new building for the health and human sciences was opened in 2008, now named the Kimmy Eldridge Building in honour of Kimmy Eldridge who joined the university in 1994 to establish the Nursing and Health Studies Unit,[26] now part of the School of Health and Social Care. The Centre for Brain Science opened in 2009 providing a new home for the Department of Psychology.

2010 to present

The Essex Business School building opened in 2015, believed to be the UK's first zero-carbon business school building, with a winter garden giving the building its own micro-climate and a rainwater pond recycling water to cool the building. The building includes a trading floor with Bloomberg terminals offering direct use of Bloomberg information. The building won the RICS Design through Innovation Award for the East of England.[27]

The Silberrad Student Centre and Albert Sloman Library extension opened in 2015. The project was received RIBA's Regional Building of the Year Award 2016 plus a national RIBA awards.[28]

The Forum Southend-on-Sea opened in 2013 and was a joint project between Essex, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and South Essex College. The building was a runner-up in the 'Buildings that Inspire' category of The Guardian University Awards in 2015.[29][30]

In 2018, a STEM Centre opened to house the university's science departments[31] and The Copse student accommodation opened offering 643 new single ensuite rooms and studios.[32] In 2019, the Innovation Centre, Knowledge Gateway opened offering space for more than 50 start-up technology businesses.[33]

In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II conferred upon the university the Regius Professorship, recognizing "50 years of excellence in research and education in political science at Essex."[34] The first Regius professor was David Sanders of the Government Department, who held the post from 20142017.[35] In December 2017 Kristian Skrede Gleditsch was appointed as the second Regius Professor.[36]

The university was involved in controversy relating to alleged anti-semitism during voting for the establishment of a Jewish student society in February 2019.[37][38]

In March 2019, Essex joined seven other universities across European to form the Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) Alliance. in June 2019, the European Commission announced YUFE was one of 17 projects that will receive funding for a three-year pilot under the European Universities Initiative funded by the Erasmus+ programme. The aim of the programme is to create ‘European Universities’ based on cross-border alliances of higher education institutions that share a long-term strategy and will promote European values and identity.[39]


In her article "Diary: Why I Quit" in the London Review of Books,[40] the novelist and the chair of judges for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize Dame Marina Warner compared the University of Essex to "the world of Chinese communist corporatism where enforcers rush to carry out the latest orders from their chiefs in an ecstasy of obedience to ideological principles which they do not seem to have examined, let alone discussed with the people they order to follow them, whom they cashier when they won’t knuckle under." And in "The Strange Death of the Liberal University",[41] Michael Bailey describes the university as a place that promotes "divisive competition, false economies and philistine instrumentality".

Campus and architecture

Wivenhoe Park, the home of Colchester Campus, was painted by landscape painter John Constable in 1816. The park houses the main 1960s buildings along with Wivenhoe House, an 18th-century mansion that also features in Constable's painting. Wivenhoe House hotel was closed in December 2010 for major refurbishment and reopened in 2012 as a combined four-star country house hotel and hotel school.[42] The Edge Hotel School was originally a partnership between the university and the Edge Foundation and is now a department of the university. It is the UK's first working hotel school dedicated to the development of future leaders of the hotel and hospitality industry.

With its concrete architecture, the university is typical of England's 1960s universities and was heavily influenced by the international Brutalist architecture movement. Due to its particular form of architecture involving the use of prefabricated concrete and glass, the university is also referred to as a plateglass university.

The architect of the campus, Kenneth Capon, took the Tuscan town of San Gimignano with its squares and towers as an inspiration (the university has six residential towers mainly for undergraduates, but the original plan was to build 29).[43]

The landmark buildings include the residential towers, The Hexagon and the Albert Sloman library - which was selected as an ‘icon of British design’ by the Victoria and Albert Museum in its 2012 exhibition British Design 1948–2012.[44] The library has one of the few remaining still operating continuous loop paternoster lifts in the country.

An exhibition called Something Fierce was created in The Hexagon to celebrate the university's 50th anniversary in 2014, reflecting on the university's founding vision and its relationship with its architecture. The exhibition was curated by art historian Jules Lubbock and director of the university's Art Exchange gallery. The university's original buildings were also featured in the Futures Found exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2017 which reflected on post-war architecture in the UK.[45]

The Silberrad Student Centre and extension of the Albert Sloman Library completed in 2015 were designed to reflect the Brutalist architecture of the original campus buildings.[46] The project was named RIBA Regional Building of the Year Award in 2016.

Essex Business School also opened in 2015 and won the Design through Innovation category at the RICS Awards 2016 for the East of England.[47]


The university is organised into three faculties, comprising 21 schools and departments, spanning the Humanities, Social Sciences and Science and Health.


Faculty of Humanities
  • Department of History
  • Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
  • East 15 Acting School
  • Edge Hotel School
  • Essex Pathways
  • School of Philosophy and Art History
  • School of Law
Faculty of Science and Health
  • School of Biological Sciences
  • School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering
  • School of Health and Social Care
  • Department of Mathematical Sciences
  • Department of Psychology
  • School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Science
Faculty of Social Sciences
  • Department of Economics
  • Department of Government
  • Department of Language and Linguistics
  • Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies
  • Department of Sociology
  • Essex Business School
  • Institute for Social and Economic Research
  • UK Data Archive


Flagship institutes

Essex has three flagship institutes which bring together academics from across disciplines and departments to deliver research in a specialist area. These are the Human Rights Centre, the Institute for Analytics and Data Science and the Institute for Social and Economic Research.[49]

Human Rights Centre

The Human Rights Centre at Essex was established in 1982. One of the first academic centres of its kind in the world, the work of the Human Rights Centre led to the university receiving a Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2010 for its work to promote human rights internationally.[50]

Institute for Analytics and Data Science

The Institute for Analytics and Data Science (IADS) works with businesses and local, regional and national authorities on management and transfer of big data; methodological and analytical methods for different types of applications from financial and business to biomedical; and socio-economic aspects of data; and ethical, legal and human rights aspects of data.[51]

Institute for Social and Economic Research

The Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) is a research centre for the analysis of panel data in Economics and Sociology. It opened in 1989 as the ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change in Britain and now houses the ESRC-funded Understanding Society[52] project, a longitudinal study of the socio-economic circumstances and attitudes of 100,000 individuals in 40,000 British households. ISER's work led to Essex receiving the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2017.[53]

Notable departments

UK Data Archive

The UK Data Archive is a national centre of expertise in data archiving in the United Kingdom (UK). It houses the largest collection of digital data in the social sciences and humanities in the UK. The UK Data Archive was originally founded in 1967 on the Colchester Campus as the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Data Bank.

Department of Government

The department of Government at Essex has been ranked as top for research in every one of the UK Government's assessments of research excellence. In the Research Excellence Framework in 2014, Essex recorded the highest GPA score of 3.54 and also had 68 percent of its outputs graded as 4*. An article published by the Political Studies Association noted: "This is a tremendous achievement and further cements Essex’s reputation as the leading political science department in the country."[54]

The department has four major Research Centres. The Jean Monnet European Centre of Excellence, the Michael Nicholson Centre for Conflict and Cooperation, the Centre for Ideology and Discourse Analysis (CIDA) and the Centre on the Politics of Representation in Crisis (CPRC).[55] It has organised the Essex Summer School in Social Science Data Analysis since 1967.[56]

The department is home to the British Journal of Political Science.

The Essex School of Discourse Analysis emerged from the graduate programme in ideology and discourse analysis developed by Ernesto Laclau at Essex and informed by his work with Chantal Mouffe.

Notable academics linked to the department over its history include Brian Barry, Sarah Birch, R. A. W. Rhodes, Jean Blondel, Sir Ivor Crewe, Peter Frank, Robert E Goodin, Anthony King, Ernesto Laclau and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, current holder of the Regius Professorship in Political Science.

Department of Sociology

The Department of Sociology was one of the founding departments of the university. Its founding professor was Peter Townsend with Geoffrey Hawthorn, Herminio Martins and Paul Thompson its first academic appointments in 1964. Dorothy E. Smith was the first female lecturer and was appointed in 1966.[57]

The department has five research centres: the Centre for Criminology, the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Centre for Intimate and Sexual Citizenship, the Centre for Research in Economics Sociology and Innovation, and the Centre for Migration Studies.[58]

Other notable academics linked to the department over its history include Joan Busfield, Stan Cohen, BBC presenter and former chair of the Social History Society Pamela Cox,[59] Leonore Davidoff, Diane Elson, Miriam Glucksmann, David Lockwood and Mary McIntosh.

East 15 Acting School

In September 2000 the East 15 Acting School became part of the university. The school is based in Loughton in southwest Essex and has a branch in Southend. East 15 topped The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide's rankings for drama in September 2018[60] and was ranked first in The Guardian University Guide 2020.[61] In 2017 research by The Stage showed East 15 was the UK's most diverse drama school with a third of students from BAME backgrounds.[62]

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering

The School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering was inaugurated on 1 August 2007. It was created by merging two long-established departments: The Department of Computer Science and the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering which both began in 1966.[63]

According to a report to UK Parliament, the UK's AI research started in the 1950s and 1960s when the four major AI research centres at universities of Edinburgh, Sussex, Essex, and Cambridge were formed.[64]

Notable academics linked to the department include Richard Bartle, Mohammed Ghanbari, Riccardo Poli, Edward Tsang and Ray Turner.


The university has stated it is prioritising new and existing partnerships at international and national level.[65] This includes developing the first European university through the Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) alliance of eight young universities and six associate partners from the higher education, non-governmental and private sector[66], and promoting research collaboration plus student and staff mobility through the Young European Research Universities network (YERUN) which represents 18 universities from 12 EU countries[67].

The university has a number of international academic partnerships[68] offering a range of dual degrees, double degrees and masters with universities in China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and Singapore. Essex also has link and friendship agreements plus progression arrangements with more than 100 higher education institutions around the world.

Essex's School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering and Northwest University in China launched a double degree programme in 2017 approved by the Ministry of Education in China. As a prestigious joint four-year programme, Students will complete the first three years of the programme in China, with Essex staff travelling to Xi’an to deliver month-long modules, followed by online support from the UK. After completing the final year in the UK students are awarded qualifications from both institutions; a BSc in Electronic Systems Engineering from Essex and a BSc in Electronic Information Science and Technology. [69]

Essex also has growing links with a range of Chinese universities including Shanghai University of Finance and Economics[70], Sichuan International Studies University in Chongqing [71] and Guangdong University of Foreign Studies[72].

Since 2014 Essex has offered a range of degree courses in partnership with Kaplan Singapore. The partnership between Kaplan and Essex now extends to various full-time and part-time programmes in partnership with Essex Business School, Edge Hotel School and, soon, the Department of Psychology and the School of Sports, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences.[73]

Other partnerships include an international dual-degree programme offered in collaboration between the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and the Department of Government at Essex[74]; validation arrangements with Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore; a Masters course in Entrepreneurship and Innovation led by Essex and HKU Space in Hong Kong[75]; and pathways to courses in Essex Business School and Essex Law School from Brickfields Asia College in Malaysia[76].

Essex is now the primary academic partner of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in London accrediting a growing range of postgraduate courses including its MA in The Foundations of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, the Doctorate in Child, Community & Educational Psychology and the Doctorate in Child & Educational Psychology[77].

Essex's collaboration with Kaplan Open Learning delivers degrees through the University of Essex Online and was named public/private partnership of the year at the PIEoneer Awards in 2017[78].

University of Essex International College is a partnership between Kaplan International Pathways and the university offering degree preparation courses for international students at the Colchester Campus.[79]

The University of Essex has established the Eastern Arc research consortium with the University of East Anglia and the University of Kent to lead on research collaborations aligned with the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals.[80]


The University of Essex was named University of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards in 2018[81]. It won the International Collaboration of the Year Award at the Times Higher Education Awards 2019 for its work with Amnesty International and five other universities on the Digital Verification Corps, which investigates human rights violations around the world[82].

On two occasions Essex has been awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education, in 2009 for its "advancing the legal and broader practice of international human rights," and in 2017 for its "authoritative social and economic research to inform the policies of governments for the improvement of people’s lives."[83][53]

For many years Essex was among the smallest multi-faculty universities in Britain but its strategic plan 2013-19 set a target of expanding by around 50% to around 15,000 students.[84]

It was a member of the 1994 Group. It is now a member of the Young European Research Universities Network (YERUN) and Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) alliance.[85]

Essex has developed an international reputation for teaching and research. The annual Summer School in Social Science Data Analysis and Collection, celebrated its 50th year in 2017,[86] more than 15,000 faculty and students from all over the world have completed courses through the Summer School over the past five decades.[87]

The University of Essex was rated in the top 20 in the UK in the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014)[88] and has been in the top 15 for overall student satisfaction six years running, amongst mainstream English universities, according to the National Student Survey (NSS, 2018).[89]

The 1987 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Óscar Arias who completed his doctorate in Political Science in 1973. The 2010 Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Christopher Pissarides who gained his BA and MA degrees in Economics in the early 1970s. In 2016 former Essex academic Oliver Hart won the Nobel Prize for Economics.[90] Derek Walcott, who received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, served as Professor of Poetry at the university from 2010 to 2013 before his retirement.


National rankings
Complete (2020)[91]44
Guardian (2020)[92]66
Times / Sunday Times (2020)[93]37
Global rankings
ARWU (2018)[94]501–600
QS (2020)[95]
THE (2020)[96]251–300
British Government assessment
Teaching Excellence Framework[97]Gold

Nationally, Essex was ranked 29th overall in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019[98] and was shortlisted for its University of the Year Award in 2018.[99]

Essex was rated Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework in 2017. The TEF Panel noted students from all backgrounds achieved outstanding outcomes with regards to continuation and progression to highly skilled employment or further study and outstanding levels of satisfaction with teaching, academic support, and assessment and feedback.[100]

Essex has been consistently ranked first for politics research and was once again ranked top in the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF2014) for politics and international studies.[101] Essex was 19th overall, out of mainstream UK universities, according to the Times Higher Education's 'intensity' ranking for REF2014 which mapped university performance against the proportion of eligible staff submitted.[102] Nine Essex subjects were ranked in the top 25 in the UK using this 'intensity' measure including sociology, economics, business and management, art history, philosophy, law, history and sport and exercise sciences.[88]

The university is ranked 251st-300th in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020 and in the top 20 for international outlook within this ranking.[103] The university is 370th in the QS World University Rankings 2020.[104]

Essex is ranked in the top 50 for social sciences and 51st for law in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings by subject 2019.[105] Essex is also ranked 126th-150th for Business and Economics, 201st-250th for Arts and Humanities, and 175th-200th for Computer Science in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.[106] In the QS World University Rankings by Subject, Essex is ranked 33rd for politics and international relations, 47th for sociology, 101st-150th for economics and econometrics, 101st-150th for linguistics, 151st-200th for English language and literature and 151st-200th for law and legal studies.[107]

According to the Times Higher Education 100 Under 50 rankings published in 2014, the university was placed 22nd, up seven places from the previous year.[108]

In 2018, it was ranked in the top 15 for overall student satisfaction out of English mainstream universities (defined by the university as non-specialist higher education institutions with a survey population of at least 500) for the sixth year running in the National Student Survey.[109]

Student life

Student body

The university has a very large population of international students, with over 4,300 students from outside the UK in 2017–18.[110] Statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show 95% of UK undergraduates are from state schools or colleges and 11.8% are from low participation neighbourhoods.[111]

Essex has an international character with 132 countries represented in its student body. The Times Higher Education World Rankings placed Essex joint 15th for the highest percentage of international students with 44.3% of students coming from outside the UK.[112] Essex is also in the top 20 for 'international outlook' in these rankings[113] – this indicator measures the proportion of staff and students from outside the UK alongside international collaboration on research.

Students' Union

Some of the major music bands to play in Essex's Students' Union include AC/DC, Blur, Iggy Pop, The Kinks, Can, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The Smiths and The Specials.[114]

Essex students voted to leave the National Union of Students in an All Student Vote in 2017. A total of 1,026 votes were cast across the three campuses (845 Colchester, 132 in Southend and 46 in Loughton) with 59% in favour of disaffiliating from the national body.[115] In 2018, the student body voted in a referendum to change the way the Students' Union operates with the establishment of a Student Parliament to represent students and hold the officers to account.[116][117]

The Students' Union media channels operate under the name Rebel. Rebel Radio won the Best Training Initiative award at the I Love Student Radio Awards in 2019.[118]


Sport is an integral part of the living and learning experience for students and staff at Essex.  There are a wide range of opportunities to participate in sport and physical activity offered, designed to have broad appeal, and to contribute to health and wellbeing of the campus community and to complement the educational experience offered at the University.

The competitive student sports teams taking part in the British Universities and Colleges Sports competitions are known as the Essex Blades. There are more than 40 clubs covering a range of sports including football, rugby union, netball and cricket, as well as in non-traditional sports such as korfball, ultimate frisbee, pole dancing and cheerleading.[119]

Essex has a focus on a number of 'high-performance' sports including volleyball, basketball, rugby union (particularly rugby sevens), football, tennis, netball and lacrosse. Undergraduate and postgraduate sports scholarships are offered for high-performing students in these focus sports, as well as for students competing in individual events.

National sporting successes include winning the men's team winning the Volleyball England National Student Cup in three consecutive seasons from 2017-19[120] and the women's basketball team winning the Basketball England National Cup in 2016 and the National League title in 2018.[121] In 2019 the men's volleyball team became the first Essex team to win the British University and Colleges (BUCS) championship national final.[122] Further successes in 2019 included both the men's and women's volleyball team winning the national student cup[123] and the Women's Basketball team retained the BUCS Premier South Title.[124]

The university opened the new Essex Sport Arena at the Colchester Campus in 2018, an international-standard sporting venue with seating for 1,650 spectators. It provides facilities for basketball, volleyball, futsal, table tennis, and badminton, and also hosts the Max Whitlock Gymnastics School.[125] The Essex Sport Arena is also home to the Essex Rebels Women's Basketball programme, which includes a women's team playing in the Women's British Basketball League (WBBL), the first women's sports franchise in the eastern region.[126] The Essex Sport Arena is also host to the Essex Rebels Basketball Academy, run in conjunction with a number of local secondary schools and colleges, and the Essex Rebels Junior Basketball Club, which has teams at under-14, under-16 and under-18 age groups competing in the Basketball England Junior National League.

A number of National Governing Bodies have partnerships with the university including the Football Association, England Rugby, the Lawn Tennis Association, Basketball England, and Volleyball England. Essex is also a "Sport England Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme Delivery Centre" and one of only 12 accredited 'dual-career' universities. Great Britain and England teams use the university's sporting facilities for training camps, and the facilities also play host to a wide range of sporting competitions such as county and regional championships.[127] In September 2019 Essex was chosen by Basketball England as one of eight regional talent hubs.[128] Essex is also one of 14 universities selected as Tier 1 University Football Hubs which work with the FA and BUCS to support the development of grassroots football.[129] The university also works in partnership with Ipswich Town Football Club in delivering support services for their Women’s Super League Academy programme.

The Colchester Campus is also home to one of the longest-established disc golf courses in the UK which has hosted many international championships including the World Team Disc Golf Championship in 2017.[130]

Once a year, 'Derby Day' is a varsity sports contest between the University of Essex clubs and the University of East Anglia sport teams. The event is hosted alternately by Essex and UEA. [131]

Knowledge Gateway research and technology park

Essex has established the Knowledge Gateway research and technology park at its Colchester Campus with a long term aim of providing employment for more than 2,000 people.[132] The first phase of Parkside Office Village and the new £21m Essex Business School were the first buildings to be completed. The second phase of Parkside Office Village opened in autumn 2018 and a new £12m Innovation Centre opened in 2019. The innovation Centre will provide a home to more than 50 start-ups and has been supported with substantial funding from Essex County Council and South East Local Enterprise Partnership.[133] The University was named a University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) by the UK Government in September 2019 and received £800,000 towards the £1.3m Accelerating Innovation at the Knowledge Gateway project which is developing a range of initiatives to support businesses to work with the University,[134][135]

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

Essex's Research and Enterprise Office connects businesses with academic expertise and also offers business support. In December 2019 Essex was the leading university in the East of England and London for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, the flagship Innovate UK programme, and 3rd in the UK with 35 active projects worth a total of £8 million.[136]

Notable alumni

Notable alumni in the field of politics and government include Óscar Arias, the former President of Costa Rica, who completed his doctorate in Political Science in 1973 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. Kevin Casas Zamora, the former Vice President of Costa Rica (MA 1993). In October 2010, the Nobel Prize in Economics was jointly awarded to Christopher A. Pissarides, who had completed his BA and MA in Economics in the early 1970s. Other political figures educated at Essex include the foreign ministers of Slovenia (Dimitrij Rupel) & Iraq (Hoshyar Zebari), Conservative Party MPs Virginia Bottomley, Priti Patel and John Bercow, former Speaker of the House of Commons, Labour Party MP Siobhain McDonagh, Labour Party MEP John Howarth, Speaker of Bangladesh's Parliament Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Pakistani social activist Omar Asghar Khan, South African politician Thozamile Botha and Singapore social activist James Gomez (MA 1994). Two of those convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions connected to The Angry Brigade, Hilary Creek and Anna Mendleson, had been to Essex University but left without completing their degrees.

Notable alumni in the field of the humanities and media include Stephen Daldry and Mike Leigh, who both studied at the East 15 Acting School (part of the university since 2001), artistic director William Burdett-Coutts (MA Drama), documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield, filmmaker David Yates, artist and art collector Robert Priseman, writer and graphic artist Tom Raworth, the TV comedy producer Geoff Posner, the Malaysian poet Kee Thuan Chye, the BBC Correspondent Brian Hanrahan, fashion designer and Fashion Revolution founder Carry Somers, the novelists Jonathan Wilson, John Lawton and novelist Ben Okri, a recipient of the Booker Prize. Musicians include jazz guitarist John Etheridge and jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon.

In the field of architecture, architect Daniel Libeskind, who was commissioned to rebuild the World Trade Center Site in New York City (MA in the History and Theory of Architecture, 1972). The architectural historian Alberto Pérez-Gómez, subsequently head of the History and Theory of Architecture program at McGill University in Canada (M.A. and PhD, 1975). Notable alumni in law include Mark Watson-Gandy, an award-winning barrister.

Many of the university's graduates have gone on to staff university departments worldwide. These include Erkin Bairam (Economics, Otago), Kusuma Karunaratne (Sinhala, Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and Vice-Chancellor, Colombo), Farish A. Noor (NTU), Michael Taylor (Politics, Washington) and Jean Drèze (London School of Economics and Political Science, Delhi School of Economics). It has been estimated that half of the sociology professors in UK Higher Education have completed all or part of their education at Essex.[137]


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