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Case studies

Our university’s foundations are built on a vision to be freer, more daring, more experimental. Our academics form a global community of expertise; they’re constantly challenging the status quo, and striving to improve the world.

Social sciences

Professor David Sanders

Professor David Sanders

Department of Government

Helping online polling click

Essex has played a key role in the work of the British Election Study. Research at Essex includes delivering vital insights into online polling which has had an impact across Europe.

  • Context

    Essex is renowned for its research into political behaviour, public opinion and voting patterns. From 2001 to the 2010 General Election, Essex was home to the British Election Study which is a national resource for exploring and explaining public opinion on major electoral issues. Under the leadership of Professor David Sanders and Professor Paul Whiteley, the British Election Study investigated different approaches to uncovering the views of the electorate and finding out which issues influence their decisions. Online polling has become increasingly important and research at Essex is central to the development of best practice to ensure accuracy and reliability.

  • Research

    Essex has focused on a number of key areas which influence voting decisions including policy performance, the decline of a sense of attachment to a political party and the weakening of a sense of duty. Careful analysis of British Election Study data found internet-based surveys could be as reliable as in-person interviews. This was based on extensive statistical tests comparing the properties of Internet panel data and in-person interviews. The results of these tests found the Internet and in-person data have very similar distributions on key variables.

  • Impact

    The increasing use of online surveys for sampling public opinion from 2001 onwards was supported by pioneering research at Essex through the British Election Study. The research led to a breakthrough in survey methodology and changed how we sample public opinion. Polling specialist YouGov worked in partnership with Essex to use online methods to analyse General Election results. This research gave YouGov the confidence to expand its online operations dramatically and use online surveys more and more extensively in the build-up to elections. The rest of the survey sector has followed in their wake. Meanwhile, methods pioneered at Essex through the British Election Study have been adopted by other national election studies in Europe, including those in Italy, Austria, and Switzerland.

    “Not only was YouGov convinced by the validity of online polling but the British Election Study’s research has played an important role in convincing the survey sector as a whole of the accuracy of internet-based polls.”
    Peter Kellner, President, YouGov

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Social sciences

Professor Holly Sutherland

Professor Holly Sutherland

Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER)

EUROMOD – modelling the tax impact

The European Commission along with various national administrations have used the University of Essex-based EUROMOD tax-benefit microsimulation model to improve the evidence base for policymaking.

  • Context

    Tax-benefit simulations are a valuable tool to model the potential effects of various policy measures.

    The effects of changes to taxation or benefits can be modelled in order to identify the likely consequences for household incomes. The ability to model these consequences effectively is vital in assessing the merits, or otherwise, of potential austerity measures.

  • Research

    EUROMOD can be used to address a wide range of research and policy-related questions. It was developed at the University of Essex by Professor Holly Sutherland, who now leads a team of researchers.

    By using household microdata from Eurostat’s European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, EUROMOD is able to simulate the effects of changes to tax and benefits in all EU28 member states.

    Results may be evaluated for individual countries on their own or in comparison with each other, for the EU as a whole, or for any sub-group of countries. However, the model can also be used in any country with relevant microdata.

  • Impact

    EUROMOD is used by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG-EMPL) in policy formulation and analysis, demonstrated in a number of policy reports, including Employment and social developments in Europe and The EU Employment and Social Situation Quarterly Review.

    DG-EMPL has used EUROMOD to model the effect of austerity measures and has been used in the policy recommendations to member states.

    The Austrian government has used a version of EUROMOD to both help the country meet poverty-reduction targets and to create a portal through which all Austrians can assess the potential impact of policy changes.

    The Greek government has used EUROMOD to model the effects various austerity policies that have been either adopted or abandoned as a result. EUROMOD has also been adapted and used by the governments of South Africa and Serbia.

    “The on-going EUROMOD work on nowcasting provides valuable and timely information on the most probable recent trends in the distribution of incomes and particularly in the share of population at risk of poverty.”
    Olivier Bontout, Unit A2 – Social Analysis, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG-EMPL), European Commission

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Social sciences

Professor Prem Sikka

Professor Prem Sikka

Essex Business School

Exposing the fraudsters and tax dodgers

There is a ‘dark side’ to the financial sector and nothing in it escapes the scrutiny of Professor Prem Sikka, one of the most influential people in the field of UK finance.

  • Context

    Over the last decade we have all become familiar with stories of corporate tax avoidance. Starbucks, Amazon and Google are some of the names to have had to answer difficult questions in response to a greater focus, around the world, on increasing tax revenue following recession. Banking fraud too is firmly on the political and news agenda in the UK and beyond. Professor Prem Sikka, of Essex Business School, has been at the forefront of exposing these scandals, and in 2010 was listed as one of the UK’s most influential people in the world of finance by Accountancy Age.

  • Research

    Professor Sikka is renowned for never shying away from challenging the very powerful and very rich. He has led the fight against predatory practices at multinational corporations, including price-fixing cartels and corporate corruption. His research on tax avoidance in particular has established him as an expert on the ways companies use legal loopholes to avoid tax.

    He has made a significant contribution too to how we understand the complicity of accountancy firms in money laundering and banking fraud. It was his work that exposed the role Price Waterhouse played in the auditing and regulatory failures surrounding the collapse and criminal practices of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

  • Impact

    Through expert testimony, consultation and citations, Professor Sikka’s work on tax avoidance has informed policy discussion, and in 2013 he was invited to advise Vince Cable. His findings have influenced reports by the House of Commons Treasury Committee and by the House of Commons Parliamentary Commission for Banking Standards.

    The Sandstorm report, which exposed Price Waterhouse and ultimately brought about the downfall of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, was only published and scrutinised by finance lawyers and the UK media thanks to a campaign by Professor Sikka to have it released in the UK. The campaign influenced Freedom of Information law by setting new precedents and the Department of Justice guidance for appellants now refers to the ruling in Sikka v the Information Commissioner.

    “I have noted Prem Sikka’s detailed suggestions for how to ensure that regulation is seen as being effective and independent of the profession, all of which are very helpful and a constructive contribution to work in this area.”
    Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

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Social sciences

Peter Patrick

Professor Peter Patrick

Department of Language and Linguistics

When speech is your only passport

Determining whether an asylum seeker’s claim of origin is genuine has been made easier thanks to Essex research which formed the backbone of best-practice guidelines for Language Analysis for Determination of Origin (LADO).

  • Context

    Asylum seekers who arrive in the UK with no documents have only their bodies, their stories and their speech to back up their claims of persecution.

    Language Analysis for the Determination of Origin (LADO) is used to help decide doubtful cases based on how people use their native languages.

    Professor Peter Patrick was involved in producing the 2004 Guidelines for the Use of Language Analysis in relation to Questions of National Origin in Refugee Cases, aimed at lawyers, judges, asylum activists and government agencies making asylum decisions. The Guidelines address complex issues of language variation, arguing expertise should come from qualified experts.

  • Research

    Linguist Professor Patrick has acknowledged expertise in how languages are learned, used, lost and how they vary across social circumstances and he has considerable experience evaluating LADO reports.

    Assessing asylum seekers’ speech an extremely complex task and Professor Patrick’s work has been vital in establishing the core concepts of speech community and language socialisation, which are part of the sociolinguistic analysis in every LADO case.

    In modelling speaker membership patterns in multi-variety speech communities he has provided grounds for reports arguing that courts must recognise complex language socialisation patterns and recognise that language and national boundaries do not necessarily cohere.

  • Impact

    Due to his linguistic expertise, in 2012, Professor Patrick was recruited to work on a case that had been referred to the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Sessions.

    The case involved a specific challenge to the use of SPRAKAB language reports in asylum cases – which was commissioned by the Home Office, but do not comply with the Guidelines for the Use of Language Analysis in relation to Questions of National Origin in Refugee Cases.

    The judgment found that the Guidelines were the yardstick by which LADO evidence should be assessed and that the use of SPRAKAB reports can be challenged.

    The Home Office appealed, but the case was rejected by the UK Supreme Court, which found fault with the way in which SPRAKAB reports have been used.

    “The Guidelines were adopted by our firm as a general standard for LADO and they have been referred to as a good standard for LADO and the recruiting of experts in crucial rulings by the highest administrative court in the Netherlands.”
    Dr Maaike Verrips, Managing Director of LADO specialists De Taalstudio BV

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Humanities

Clara Sandoval

Dr Clara Sandoval

Human Rights Centre,
School of Law

Justice for victims

Leopoldo García Lucero is a Chilean torture survivor. His fight for justice, supported by Dr Clara Sandoval, was a landmark case that could help 200,000 more victims of human rights abuses secure redress.

  • Context

    Many tens of thousands of men, women and children around the world are victims of human rights violations. Charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) campaign on their behalf but international laws that are supposed to secure reparations are highly contested and not always properly implemented.

    Our research on those laws and how they are applied, and practising lawyers from our Human Rights Centre, who have fought those cases in international courts, are helping make redress and reality.


  • Research

    Dr Clara Sandoval, Director of our Transitional Justice Network, has been instrumental in helping the international legal community understand how we can better support those who have suffered serious human rights violations.

    Her research has helped clarify the scope of the obligation to provide reparations under international law, and she has argued that the legal definition of ‘victim’ ought to be flexible, culturally sensitive, and broad.

    She has fought too for the concept of rehabilitation to be reconsidered in a more holistic light, to include provision of assistance on social services, legal services, and financial services.

    Listen

    Lorna McGregor and Clara Sandoval talk about how they and their students supported Redress in the Leopoldo García Lucero case:


  • Impact

    In 2013, Dr Sandoval and Lorna McGregor, Director of our Human Rights Centre, fought, with UK-based charity Redress, to secure justice for Leopoldo García Lucero who was forced into exile in London after being tortured and arbitrarily detained under the Pinochet regime.

    In a landmark decision at the Inter-American Court, Mr García Lucero was awarded £20,000, setting an international precedent for victims of the military dictatorship still living abroad.

    As well as continuing the Human Rights Centre’s established tradition of litigating human rights cases, Dr Sandoval has been consulted by the Vice-President of the International Criminal Court, and by the United Nations.

    She has contributed work to the International Criminal Court report on the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo v Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, and has influenced other Redress campaigns.

    “I want to thank Clara for all her support over many years and the generous contribution that she always gave me to fine tune many ideas.”
    Elizabeth Odio-Benito, Vice-President of the International Criminal Court

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Humanities

Eddie Higgs

Professor Eddie Higgs

Department of History

Unlocking our past

Our understanding of the 19th and 20th centuries is being transformed thanks to the Department of History’s Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) project which offers new ways of analysing census material.

  • Context

    Professor Eddie Higgs is internationally renowned for his research into the history of census-taking and the way governments gather and store personal information about their citizens. His book, Making Sense of the Census Revisited, is an authoritative guide to the field.

    Professor Higgs and Professor Kevin Schurer, now at the University of Leicester, worked in partnership with Findmypast to deliver a standardised, integrated dataset of censuses in Great Britain from 1851 to 1911 which will help researchers and Findmypast customers.

  • Research

    Between 1851 and 1911 the individual schedules returned from each household taking part in the census were transcribed and collated by the census enumerators into Census Enumerators’ Books. These books hold a huge amount of valuable historical information and the I-CeM project has taken a digitised version of these manuscripts and created one of the world’s largest and most important historical datasets. The research team cleaned, coded and classified the raw data provided by Findmypast in a standard system to offer new ways of analysing and searching the millions of records within the censuses.

    The research team were awarded £800,000 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to develop the Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) project.

  • Impact

    Findmypast customers and the research community are benefiting from the work of the I-CeM team. The project has reinforced Findmypast’s position as a sector leader and the company is using I-CeM to enhance services to customers by offering them more ways to search through census material.

    The research landscape has been transformed by the I-CeM project for those working on the economic, social, and demographic history of Great Britain. I-CeM is seen as one of the most important historical datasets in the world and puts the University of Essex at the forefront of international efforts in this field. Researchers can access the full version of I-CeM through the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex.

    “Association with I-CeM has provided validation of our own data collection to the broader genealogical and archive community.”
    Elaine Collins, Director of Global Partnerships, Findmypast

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Science and health

Professor Arnold Wilkins

Professor Arnold Wilkins

Department of Psychology

Colourful solution to visual stress

Thousands of people around the globe can now read in comfort using bespoke coloured lenses thanks to pioneering research by Professor Arnold Wilkins.

  • Context

    The simplest things can seriously affect the lives of people who suffer from visual stress. From reading a book to seeing a striped pattern on a shirt, sufferers can experience a range of debilitating symptoms - from headaches and blurred vision, to discomfort and word movement.

    About 5-20% of the population are affected to some degree by this condition and visual stress expert Professor Arnold Wilkins has carried out extensive research into the types of images which many people find uncomfortable, leading to the development of effective interventions to alleviate these symptoms.

  • Research

    Professor Wilkins’ comprehensive research into the causes of visual stress is unprecedented. Using coloured sheets of plastic, placed over text, he investigated ways to help improve the reading speed for sufferers of visual stress. He also explored the use of tinted lenses as an alternative approach to reduce abnormal brain activity caused by visual stress.

    On the back of successful research into using colour filters to help with a range of neurological conditions he developed the Intuitive Colorimeter device which can quickly, easily and accurately prescribe the colour of lens which best suits each patient.

    Watch


  • Impact

    Thanks to Essex-based research on visual stress, thousands of people from around the world have had their lives transformed by using coloured lenses to help with stress-related reading problems. It has also helped people cope with a range of neurological conditions such as autism and migraines which are all linked to a different range of issues but all have visual stress in common.

    Research into this life-changing technology has influenced the activities of equipment suppliers, informed the work of practitioners, and three UK-based companies now supply coloured text overlays, whose products are now used in over 60% of UK schools.

    Intuitive Colorimeters, which can offer up to 6,000 colour variations, are used by more than 500 optometrists worldwide to accurately prescribe precision tinted lenses to help patients suffering from visual stress..

    “Wearing tints has totally changed my son’s life. He no longer has headaches or feels sick after a lot of reading.”
    Mother of Sam, aged 10

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Science and Health

Rachel Bragg

Dr Rachel Bragg

Essex Sustainability Institute, School of Biological Sciences

Pioneers of green exercise revolution

Essex research was key to a successful Big Lottery bid by mental health charity Mind. This led to Ecominds, a £7.5 million, five-year programme supporting 130 environmental projects which have improved the mental health of participants.

  • Context

    Green exercise was born at the University of Essex 12 years ago.

    Until then the benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health were well-know, as was contact with the natural environment having positive effects on mental well-being.

    But in 2003, researchers Essex formally proposed linking the benefits of adopting physical activity whilst at the same time being directly exposed to nature.

    This concept was coined ‘green exercise’ and initiated a rigorous scientific research programme. It is a concept which has also captured the interest of people around the globe as a solution to improve mental wellbeing.

  • Research

    Essex researchers are world leaders in the study of green exercise and have demonstrated the benefits to health and well-being from exercise in ‘green’ surroundings.

    The Green Exercise Research Team found that participation in green exercise activities across all ranges of intensity, duration and setting can serve to improve self-esteem, whilst reducing feelings of anger, tension and depression.

    Recognising the potential significance of this research, the mental health charity Mind commissioned Essex to undertake two green exercise studies.

    These studies found that people experiencing mental health distress were frequently using physical activities to help lift their self-esteem, lower stress and reduce vulnerability to depression.

    Watch

    Professor Smith talks about his reasearch and the field research opportunities available to Essex students as part of their course.


  • Impact

    Mental health charity Mind published the results of the Essex green exercise studies in the 2007 report Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda for Mental Health (.pdf).

    This underpinned a successful Big Lottery bid, which provided funding to develop the Ecominds programme. This £7.5 million, five-year initiative supported 130 environmental projects nationwide, aiming to promote mental health via green activity engagement.

    These projects have introduced people with, and at risk of developing, mental health problems to green exercise initiatives such as gardening, food growing or environmental conservation work.

    Ecominds has helped more than 12,000 people living with mental health problems to get involved in green activities to improve confidence, self-esteem and their physical and mental health so they can them return to work and reduce social isolation.

    “An economic analysis of a range of case studies from the project, conducted by the New Economics Foundation, found that helping 254 people find full-time employment resulted in potential annual savings and contributions to the State of £1.46 million.”
    Gavin Atkins, Community Portfolio Manager, Mind

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Science and Health

David Smith

Professor David Smith

Coral Reef Research Unit, School of Biological Sciences

Wakatobi Marine National Park

Our coral reefs are under real threat, putting in jeopardy the lives of more than half a billion people who depend on them for food and income.

  • Context

    This threat comes with a stark promise – if no action is taken to protect this precious natural resource, half of the world’s coral reefs will be gone in the next 50 years.

    Our Coral Reef Research Unit (CRRU) is tackling this environmental crisis head-on. Centred on the Wakatobi Marine National Park in Indonesia, Professor David Smith and his team have developed a research strategy with Operation Wallacea to demonstrate the exceptional biodiversity of the region.

  • Research

    Wakatobi may be an oasis of biodiversity but it faces real challenges for its future survival.

    Essex’s multi-disciplinary research programme identified how the Park’s natural resources were being over exploited by a highly-dependent community and through policy-based research highlighted the need for international-level protective regulation.

    To fund this long-term research and promote the environmental significance of the Park, Essex co-developed a research-expedition model which now sends 2,000 people, including 500 students, to this site annually. This has ensured a long-term funding for the research to establish a strategy aimed at protecting the biodiversity of Wakatobi and the livelihoods of its people.

    Watch

    Professor Smith talks about his reasearch and the field research opportunities available to Essex students as part of their course.


  • Impact

    Without the excellent research led by Professor Smith, the Wakatobi Marine National Park would not have been designated as a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere reserve in 2012.

    Through pure expertise and dedication to get the Park the international recognition it deserved, Professor Smith’s internationally-recognised research showed the exceptional biodiversity of the region, coupled with the success of getting the whole community involved to help conservation. This simultaneous top-down, bottom-up approach means the CRRU is helping governments prioritise action in finding manageable, realistic solutions to making their coral reefs more sustainable to secure their future and support the growing communities who depend on them.

    As well as acquiring internationally-protected status, the Wakatobi region has benefitted economically via investment from local and central government, and employment for more than 100 local staff each year.

    “It is about identifying how our reefs will physically alter and what that means to people’s livelihoods as a result of the reduction in the reef.”
    Professor David Smith, Director of the University of Essex Coral Reef Research Unit

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Science and Health

Ray Meddis

Professor Ray Meddis

Department of Psychology

BioAid, the pioneering hearing aid app

BioAid is an app that turns mobile devices into a new type of hearing aid. Feedback shows it has transformed lives and out-performed conventional aids.

  • Context

    BioAid is the culmination of Professor Ray Meddis' ‘hearing dummy’ project which built computational simulations of types of hearing loss, and developed algorithms to compensate.

    The team from the Department of Psychology developed a new biologically-inspired hearing aid but without industry support to build a prototype, they turned to mobiles to quickly transfer the technology into a portable, experimental hearing aid and get user feedback.

  • Research

    Unlike conventional aids that are inspired by amplification engineering principles, BioAid replicates the complexities of the ear. Hearing loss is usually a loss of sensitivity to some but not all frequencies. BioAid amplifies some frequencies but also compresses loud sounds that can make some social situations uncomfortable for the estimated 360 million people worldwide who have hearing loss.

    BioAid turns iPhones, iPods and iPads into hearing aids. It is free and accessible to all without the need for a hearing test which, in the developing world are often unobtainable.

    It puts the user in control, with 24 different settings, allowing people to test it at their own pace, in their everyday environments.

    Watch

    Professor Ray Meddis talks about his reasearch into hearing and the development of the BioAid app.


  • Impact

    Between its launch in December 2012 and July 2013, BioAid was downloaded 20,000 times across 90 countries and was, at times, iTunes’ most-downloaded medical app in 11 countries.

    Its primary objective however was to demonstrate a new method of developing and testing hearing aid technology that was not reliant on industrial manufacturers, and speed up production of new aids.

    Testimonials from around the world show BioAid improves communications, enhancing personal and professional relationships, and impacting academic achievement.

    BioAid has proven that mobiles are an excellent platform for rapidly transferring technology to the public, and by making the algorithm open source, other researchers are able to use it and develop it further.

    “My son is 18 and has Down’s Syndrome…Since downloading the BioAid app on his iPad and iPod, my son is actively taking part in class discussions.”
    Anonymous user

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