As part of our Annual Meeting and Summer Reception, our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anthony Forster, gave a speech outlining how we have been living life to the full, seizing opportunities as they arise and ensuring that our commitments to excellence in education and research are realised.

A very warm welcome to the Lord Lieutenant Jennifer Tolhurst, to members of Court, supporters and our international partners who have joined us this afternoon.

I wanted to open our Annual Meeting by sharing the very sad news that Lord Andrew Phillips of Sudbury, our Chancellor from 2003 to 2014, passed away on 9 April 2023. Known to many of us, Andrew was a wonderful Chancellor. He enjoyed, enriched and energised our annual meetings and graduation ceremonies and he will be sorely missed, but he would want us to live life to the full, maybe that is his lasting legacy.

At Essex, we have been determined to live life to the full, to be positive, and to seize opportunities as they arise, ensuring that our commitments to excellence in education and research are realised.

And it’s been a very exciting year for us, not least because Colchester has joined Southend in being awarded city status, or, to be accurate, Colchester has ‘regained’ city status, something which we have enjoyed celebrating and in which we take great pride.

Some of the major highlights of the last 12 months have been:

  • Recovery of student recruitment so that we now have a student population that is almost the same as in 2021 with 19,090 students this year.
  • Our staff headcount growing 6% to 5,400.
  • Research income rising to an expected £36 million, up from £30 million last year – an all-time high. This impressive increase is a consequence of us increasing numbers of research staff, now 750, and follows last year’s REF results which saw Essex ranked in the UK top 10 for research power in five subjects – Sociology; Law; Economics; Politics and International Relations; and Computer Science. Psychology, Philosophy, and Business and Management Studies are also in the top 20 in the UK, with Sport and Exercise Sciences, Life Sciences and Public Health in the top 30.
  • I am also pleased that we have 5 subjects in the top 10 nationally for overall satisfaction in the National Student Satisfaction Survey, that our Students’ Union was ranked 7th in the UK for representing students’ academic interests – and that the SU has been nominated for a King’s Award for Volunteering with the outcome due to be shared with us in the autumn.
  • This is the second year that we have been placed in the global rankings for sustainability and I am delighted to report that we are ranked 56th this year (up from 76th last year) out of some 1,600 universities globally.
  • We have been ranked 24th for international outlook in the Times Higher Education World Rankings.
  • And we have been ranked 32nd overall in the UK in the latest Complete University Guide league table. 

Finance and sustainability

I will now move on to my annual update to Court on the University’s financial performance. I can report that:

  • In relation to financial sustainability, we are in the final year of our post pandemic recovery period. Last year we generated a cash surplus of 4.8%, which has put us on-track to generate a cash surplus of 5.5% this year, the target we have set to ensure that the University is on a sustainable footing. This money is essential to us being able to reinvest to support our future plans.
  • The University Council set a requirement for a minimum of 60 days liquidity which we have achieved and, as we pay back loans, our total long-term borrowing has steadily reduced to £142.8 million. The University has been fully compliant with all of our banking covenants, and we are on track to remain so.
  • Over the past decade we have grown from being one of the smallest multi-faculty universities in England, to being a medium-sized university, and whilst this does bring challenges, it also brings very significant opportunities and financial benefits. Last year our turnover grew to £284 million, and we expect our turnover to be £300 million by the end of this academic year. This is a fantastic achievement providing us with the size and scale to respond to external shocks as well as to allow us to benefit from economies of scale, and to be a significant UK university.

This growth has been a result of a number of activities:

  • We have developed a range of new courses, including 320 students on apprenticeships, with a further 11 new courses launching this October;
  • We have introduced a number of Postgraduate Taught courses that offer a January entry point, which have been spectacularly successful especially in international student recruitment;
  • We have effective cost control measures in place;
  • We continue to recruit talented students from around the world; and
  • We have further developed our diverse international partnerships, which are absolutely key to maintaining our global footprint and raising our profile and engagement with other universities around the world. It is wonderful that I am able to welcome a number of our partners who are with us today. 

Student experience and campus life

As we have moved out of the immediate impact of the pandemic, we have kept at the forefront of our minds the opportunity to use campus life to create rounded happy and healthy students, well equipped for the world of work and well positioned to make the world a better place.

When the University was founded in 1964, we led the way in redefining the university experience ensuring that it was as much about ‘living’ as it was about ‘learning’. 

Post-pandemic we’ve been keen that once again Essex is renowned for the experience that we offer to our students, through sports, music, the arts, and wider extra-curricular activities. 

We have looked long and hard at all that is good about being a campus-based residential university and the benefits this brings to our staff and to students. We have invested in this, re-inventing and updating our approach to campus life to create an even more exciting and re-invigorated experience. 

As a University, working closely with our Students’ Union, we recognise the importance of nurturing a sense of belonging through events and activities and responding to our changing student profile. With more masters and international students than ever before, in addition to running some firm favourite events, like the SU Fireworks evening which 4,500 students attended, we have run more daytime events than ever, including art and craft-based ‘SU Makes’ events, for those students who want to focus on a quieter activity and different ways to make new friends.

We also took the opportunity to celebrate the 2022 World Cup with the SU Football Fest, a month of celebrations across the three campuses registering an amazing 10,000 student bookings to watch the games. As well as bringing our diverse community of students together through football, this also provided an opportunity for our community to debate the hosting of the world cup in Qatar.

We have promoted a mobile app to help Essex students meet new friends with more than 8,000 connections made through the app so far this year and 24,000 messages sent between students in the same period.

The impact of our welcome work delivered by both the Students’ Union and the University has been encouraging, with 98% of first-year students that we surveyed commenting that they had found the University to be either welcoming or very welcoming.

One of the many great opportunities available to students through the Students’ Union is the chance to volunteer through our vTeam and, in doing so, gaining valuable skills and experience through helping others and, as I mentioned, we’re delighted that we have been nominated for the prestigious King’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award in UK volunteering and the volunteering equivalent to an Oscar. 

At the same time our VTeam enjoyed their busiest ever year, with Essex students racking up a record 42,700 hours of volunteering across projects within schools, care homes and on projects like our Refugee Teaching Programme. A number of our students have recently been recognised nationally for the amazing work that they do. 13 students and projects were longlisted and nine shortlisted at the National Society and Volunteering Awards in May, two of these winning their awards and four being named as runners up. A special mention to Anne Bernard, Animal Protection and Green Thumbs volunteer, who was awarded a prestigious Coronation Champion Award in April. And we look forward in anticipation to November when we hope to find out whether our VTeam has won the King’s Award.

The total number of student-led societies run by the Students’ Union has increased to 125 with more than 3,600 student members between them, and over 100 events happening every month and 8,000 hours logged by Society Executives this year. 

Responding to the changing needs of our students we have also redesigned our campus facilities to offer the very best student experience, with the Students’ Union opening four new spaces for students at the Colchester Campus: our new look SU Bar, The Atrium, The In-between, and the Communities Common Room.

We have also reviewed and improved the diversity and quality of our food offer, opening five street food stalls and creating new and refurbished cafes and restaurants.

Last but not least, we know engagement with sports at all levels has a positive impact on health and well-being and we have used our sports facilities and our amazing Essex Sport Arena, the largest indoor arena in the east of England, to encourage a campus culture of playing sport and fan engagement. Our Essex Rebels Women’s Basketball team has the largest average number of spectators of any professional women’s basketball team in the UK. At an International Women’s Day event on 11 March, we broke the record for the largest attendance at a women’s basketball league game in the UK, with 1,500 spectators cheering on the team to victory that day.

The Essex Rebels roar to record-breaking glory from University of Essex on Vimeo.

And the achievements have continued with Essex Rebels winning the prestigious ‘Best Gameday Experience Award’ from Basketball England. The Prize for the men’s National Basketball League 1, highlighted the “great atmosphere” and popular performances that have wowed crowds all season. The award is recognition for the whole Essex Sport staff team, who make sure that the experience of coming to watch the Essex Rebels is so much more than just the game.

Over the course of the sport season, 44 “showcase” gamedays were delivered on Wednesdays and weekends with just two weeks between the start of October and mid-April without gameday entertainment. We had 5,950 student spectators, an average of 230 student spectators per week, and 6,500 staff and local family spectators, and in terms of results:


  • Four teams qualified for the South East Conference Cup Finals. Congratulations to the Men’s Badminton and Men’s Fencing teams for winning their finals;
  • We had two performance teams reach the British Universities and Colleges Sport National Championships Final; and
  • 23 teams were in the top three of their leagues, contributing to Essex accumulating its highest ever points total in the overall league table.


The University of Essex’s Strategic Plan sets out our vision to “put student success at the heart of our mission, supporting every student from every background to achieve outstanding outcomes; preparing our students to thrive in their future lives and nurturing our community of educators to support and promote student success”. We are committed to excellence in education; welcoming students to the University on the basis of their potential, supporting them to fulfil that potential, and transforming the lives of everyone who chooses to study with us.

  • We were only one of 2 research intensive universities to be ranked in the top 30 in the Times and Sunday Times Social Inclusion League Table.
  • 92.6% of our UK students come from (non-selective) state schools, against a sector average of 86%; and
  • 44% of our home undergraduates are from the most disadvantaged quintiles.
  • In the period 2016 to 2021 we saw an increase of 33.5% in the number of students from the lowest participation quintile progressing to the University.

We also understand that our students need to be job ready and one of the ways we try to ensure they build their wider “hands-on” experience is through engaging with our local communities.

Our Essex Law Clinic benefits the local community by offering free initial advice about legal problems while giving over 100 students a year the chance to work alongside qualified lawyers and clinical teaching staff to advise clients.

Our final-year Sports Therapy students spend 50 of their 200 placement hours in our purpose-built Sports Therapy Clinic on the Colchester Campus assessing, treating and prescribing rehabilitation programmes to real clients, supervised by physiotherapists and sports therapists.

Students in our Department of Government and Essex Business School are working with Citizens UK and taking a ‘Democracy in Action’ module which allows them to undertake a community-based action research project.

An ‘Advocacy’ module offered by our School of Health and Social Care enables 400 students a year to create links with third sector and user-led organisations, encouraging students to be advocates for people who are seeking to access and use health services.

And a sustainability module in the Edge Hotel School, embeds education for sustainable development into the curriculum. Our students’ success was evidenced in 2021 by groups of these students being selected to present their projects by the National London Conference for Sustainability.

We have also invested in reshaping our teaching and learning facilities to ensure they are world class and provide our students with the very best learning environment:

  • Our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Centre has new state of the art collaborative learning spaces and interdisciplinary teaching facilities;
  • Our Causeway Teaching Centre has 15 new teaching rooms over three floors with the ability to provide flexible learning environments; 
  • Studio X, our digital creative collaborative studio and student start-up programme, has a state-of-the-art AI/AR, 360 VR Video and animation studios; and
  • We have expanded teaching space for our Health provision which provides teaching capacity for 300 students, including a replica nursing suite, areas for occupational therapy teaching, and consultation training spaces. 

We know that our students are also affected by many of the issues faced by our wider community.
The cost of living crisis is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Our experience at Essex is backed up by external research, which suggests that: nearly 20% of students in the UK have considered dropping out of their courses because of concerns over money; nearly half are cutting back on food shopping; and on-going concerns over private provider rent increases, fuel and travel costs. The research suggests that students who are from low-income households, who are parents, disabled students and postgraduates, are disproportionately affected.

Working with our Students’ Union, we responded quickly with a package that has been nationally recognised. This has included:

  • Restricting the increase in rent for all University owned and managed accommodation to below the cost of inflation for Academic Year 2022-23, at a cost of £1.3 million;
  • Trebling the size of our student hardship funding to £1.6 million and relaunching communications to ensure that financial support is accessible and that there is no stigma associated with students asking for support;
  • We have spent £350k on introducing a daily hot meal for £2 in our on-campus food outlets;
  • Promoting the wide range of free activities and events available to students;
  • Removing the cost of re-sit fees;
  • Paying the Voluntary Living Wage for University and SU student jobs; and
  • We have invested £100k to fund 7,500 hours of work in part-time roles for our students in Colchester and Southend.

In addition, the Students’ Union:

  • Used its network of retail suppliers to buy key items in bulk and made these available to students at cost price; and
  • Launched a weekly ‘Warm Welcome’ event, in the Autumn and Winter, offering free hot food and advice and support in different warm spaces on our Colchester Campus.

Given the size, comprehensive nature, and speed with which we launched this level of student support, we have quite rightly been held up as an example of best practice within the sector and received national attention. 

We did this because it was the right thing to do, but it has also resulted in a very welcome increase in our undergraduate continuation rates against a significant national decline in students staying the course at other universities.


In sharing our research achievements, putting research into action to benefit society is part of the DNA of the University. We put nearly £600 million into the regional economy annually. And as part of our commitment, we have been working hard to establish an even wider range of connections to businesses and the public sector over the past few years. As a result, our consultancy income has more than doubled over the past four years. 

Key achievements include:

  • Securing £60 million of investment for the Knowledge Gateway research and technology park, which includes Parkside Office Village and the Innovation Centre, which forms a regional hub for innovation and a new 40,000 square foot building which will be home to our Institute of Public Health and Wellbeing and new health and wellbeing hubs open to the public.
  • Our Angels@Essex initiative, which has been developed with University Enterprise Zone funding, matches investors with those needing financial support. So far 38 businesses have shared over £19 million and a further £9.5 million has been raised in an additional 15 funding rounds.
  • Consolidating our top position in the UK for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships with a portfolio of more than 40 initiatives worth £10 million which highlights how we are delivering substantial value to UK businesses.
  • In the latest Government review of Universities and their Knowledge Exchange activities, we were ranked 3rd in our comparator group and 12th overall in the UK for our performance across a range of areas. We featured in the top 20% for our work with the public and third sector and for our performance in terms of commercialisation. And we were in the top 40% for work on local growth and regeneration, public and community engagement, working with businesses, and graduate start-ups.
  • We have led evaluation of the impact of projects, including ‘A Better Start Southend’, a programme supporting children in areas of deprivation, and an innovative Internet of Things project involving five south London boroughs.
  • We have established a unique half a million-pound partnership with the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, to use state-of-the-art modelling, machine learning and data analytics to deliver improvements to their hospital services.
  • We are a founding partner of Freeport East based at Harwich and Felixstowe and want to support its new clean energy businesses and the off-shore wind industry.
  • And we are a partner with Tendring District Council in the award of £19 million from the levelling up fund to create a Clacton Civic Quarter Project, which will rejuvenate a key area of the town including a proposed University of Essex Centre for Coastal Communities based in the town, which we hope will become a national centre of excellence for seaside town regeneration.
  • Colleagues in our Institute of Public Health and Wellbeing and our Human Rights Centre, together with the World Health Organisation, are working with LEPRA, who are based in Colchester, on a number of research collaborations. This includes three funded postgraduate researchers starting in October 2023: one developing an intervention package to address health, mental wellbeing, stigma, and human rights violation of people living with leprosy and lymphatic filariasis in Bangladesh, and two investigating the transmission of leprosy through wastewater. And I’m delighted that two colleagues from LEPRA have joined us here today.

Essex around the world

We know how important it is to nurture our international links and we are working hard to ensure that, at the University of Essex, you really can find “The World in One Place”. 
We have continued to focus both on nurturing our existing European and International partnerships and on developing new partnerships and I am delighted with the progress that we have made and that, with covid travel restrictions being lifted across the globe, over 25 representatives of our partner universities have joined us here today. I want to take this opportunity to extend a special welcome from Essex to you.

To give you a flavour of some of the 18 new partnership agreements that we have added to our diverse existing portfolio: 

  • We have established our first ever partnership with a network of secondary schools in Thailand and new partnerships in China, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Austria, Mexico, Indonesia, Japan, and Vietnam.
  • We have developed 12 of our existing progression link partnerships – expanding relationships to include additional departments and courses at Essex.
  • We have established five new bilateral friendship agreements – including four new agreements signed during the institutional visit to Pakistan that I led in March.
  • Five new dual Masters degree partnerships with universities in Germany, Hong Kong and Japan – allowing students to obtain two masters degrees, one each from Essex and the partner;
  • A new double degree partnership for Politics with Chulalongkorn University in Thailand; 
  • A new franchise Law partner in Brunei;
  • Our franchise partnerships in Greece (Aegean Omiros College) and Ireland (Portobello Institute) continue to expand, as additional degree programmes are brought on stream;
  • We also held the first ever UK university graduation ceremony in Pakistan this year with additional graduations planned for India and Malaysia next Spring; and
  • We hosted a further 20 alumni events in 10 countries.

The dedication and integrity of Essex graduates around the world continue to be celebrated. The Study UK Alumni Awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of alumni around the world and showcase the impact and value of a UK higher education – and it’s been the most successful year to date for Essex graduates. 

We are delighted to have seen 12 alumni shortlisted in the awards, seven named as finalists, and one who has won their award category. Among the finalists are Eveghenii of Moldova and Shynar of Kazakhstan who have progressed to the prestigious and competitive global stage of the awards. This is the fifth year running that Essex graduates have been among the 28 finalists at a worldwide level from over 1,200 applications and winners will be announced towards the end of the summer. 

Our success in the awards sees Essex ranked in the top 11% of universities in the UK for the number of applications submitted by alumni, with an outstanding 41% of the Essex graduates applying being shortlisted for an award. We are also extremely pleased that the British Council have recognised the gender balance achieved in our applications with over half of applications coming from women.

I would also like to make a special mention of our alumni Volunteer of the Year - Roxana Mohammadian-Molina who graduated with an MSc in Financial Economics and Econometrics in 2007. I am delighted that Roxana has joined us here today to receive this award which recognizes her support and commitment to the University and our students. We are so grateful for the time that Roxana has given to Essex since she graduated sixteen years ago. She really is a shining example of how our graduates act as advocates and champions for the University, demonstrating their pride in their University and, of course, we are equally proud of them.


I firmly believe that our history of understanding where we came from and how this still drives our values and vision for the future will be central to our success in the coming years. A university founded by the people of Essex, for the people of Essex – your university. 

As we approach our 60th anniversary, we have plans to mark the occasion and I would very much welcome any ideas you might have as to how we might best celebrate this key moment in our history. 

I know that these values, and the transformational impact of Essex research and education, continue to resonate. This world needs Essex graduates more than ever and we are well placed to meet the challenges ahead. 

Thank you.

Take a look at all the photos from the event.