Essex was founded on the basis of a powerful vision to create a new kind of university where students could live and learn and where research really mattered. This remains our guide, combined with a relentless focus on challenging ourselves to be and to do better. I hope these are key reasons many of us come to Essex and stay at Essex. Looking back over 11 years, the scale of external challenge has been significant and in order to thrive, not just to survive, we have needed to grow and to embrace a great deal of change.

From being one of the smallest multi-faculty universities in England, we have expanded to be a medium sized university of 16,255 FTE students based on our three campuses, 750 researchers and a turnover of over £300 million. We've had growing pains for sure, but our expansion has allowed us to benefit from economies of scale which have allowed us to reinvest in our academic mission, and especially in world class staff and facilities. It has allowed us to better cope with external shocks, notably the trebling of the UK fee, the removal of student number controls, a variety of restrictions on our ability to recruit international students, and the concentration of research funding in a limited number of universities.  

I am delighted that almost all of our departments have grown over the past 11 years, broadening their range of specialisms and recruiting new talent at all levels into the university. I take great pleasure in the creation of three exciting and very successful new departments: the Edge Hotel School; the School of Sports, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences; and the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, along with two new flagship institutes: the Institute for Analytics and Data Science and the Institute for Public Health and Wellbeing. In parallel with this expansion, the quality of our research has also distinguished us. In the latest government assessment, eight of our departments were placed in the top 20 for research power in the UK, with the university ranked 32nd in the UK for size and quality of our research. In addition to the outstanding REF performance of our Social Science departments, recognition through the award of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for ISER and the Queen's award of a Regius Professorship for Political Science, are testament to the enduring strength of Essex Social Science. 

60 years ago, we invented the idea of offering a great campus student experience, where sports, music, the arts and volunteering would be as important as what goes on in the lecture theatre or laboratory. So, it is wonderful that today we are again at the forefront of reinventing a great campus student experience. This is exemplified by investment in Wivenhoe Park to ensure we unlock the full benefits of this beautiful natural space, now firmly established in the Green Flag top 10 most popular UK parks; by our pioneering work in building a community of support for our representative sports teams - which helped us break the league attendance record for the women’s professional basketball league this year and win the award for the men’s National League best game day experience; and by the track record of the university in volunteering – which saw us again ranked first in the UK for the number of hours our students volunteer, winning two out of eight National Volunteering Awards and securing a recent nomination for a King’s Anniversary Prize for Volunteering. Above all I’m proud of the amazing work of our Students’ Union which is integral to the Essex Experience and rightly recognised nationally, being ranked in the top 10 SUs in the country. 

With 40% of our students coming from outside the UK, we have continued our long tradition of having a cosmopolitan and internationalist outlook and being a university where you can find the world in one place. I’m delighted that we see our commitment to the strongest possible European links as the foundation stone of our international identity. As one of only three UK universities to join the first wave of European University Alliances in 2019, YUFE and its sister network YERUN are an absolutely vital part of our university navigating life in a post Brexit world. 

Our work to be a university created ‘in’, ‘for’ and ‘by’ the people of Essex, is exemplified by the development of the 34-acre Knowledge Gateway – one of only 24 Government sponsored University Enterprise Zones – and by our Innovation Centre, which supports local businesses and student start-ups, helping us bring businesses into the heart of our Colchester Campus. The opening of the Parkside building, home to our Institute of Public Health and Wellbeing and a major NHS investment in our Health, Wellbeing and Care Hub, will be a beacon of how universities can unlock the potential of their outstanding staff and students for the benefit of local residents. It is fantastic that our success in Knowledge Exchange has been recognised through a ranking of 12th in the UK for this work, a key measure of our community making a difference.

We are unusual for a research-intensive university, in that we recruit students on the basis of potential as well as prior achievement, changing the life chances of our students. Whilst the major national league tables may not reflect this as much as we would like, our ranking in the top 30 of The Times and Sunday Times ‘Social Inclusion Index’, one of only three research intensive universities to do so, is recognition of the vital mission we have. 

We rightly celebrate the ground-breaking vision and values on which the university was founded 60 years ago, but we also are a community of staff and students relentlessly focused on shaping the world that we live in now. Above all, we are a community committed to making the world a better place. Long may this continue. It has been such a privilege to be part of this community for the past 11 years, to work with so many talented colleagues and students, and to witness so closely the transformational effect of the university on people’s lives. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, and I am sure that Essex will continue to go from strength to strength.

Anthony Forster