Nearly 50 years ago the University was founded as an international university ‘by’ ‘in’ and ‘for’ Essex. Establishing a modern university was a big prize for any county and it was no surprise that there was a major campaign for Essex to be one of the seven counties to be awarded their own university.

For Essex the University was seen as one of the very few unifying institutions in a large and disparate county; with the potential to add to the intellectual, economic and cultural life of the county.

Part of the reason why the county of Essex was chosen for a new university was the fact that £1.5 million was pledged in six months from local businesses, individual donors and the County Council, which supplemented government funding and indicated the seriousness of local support. It also ensured that the University of Essex would get off to a flying start.

Now with campuses in Colchester, Southend and Loughton, over the last 50 years the University’s impact on the county and the region has been significant.

  • Spending by the University, its staff and students supports more than 1,000 jobs, the University contributes £119 million to the local economy, directly employs 3,000 people and educates 11,000 students each year.
  • Last year, the University’s outreach team’s activities involved over 10,000 students, parents/carers and teachers from over 130 schools in Essex and the eastern region.
  • This academic year, 1,088 of our new first-year undergraduates are from the local region (598 from Essex/Suffolk and 490 from London). This equates to about 41 per cent of all first-year undergraduate registrations.
  • More than 15,500 of our graduates live in the region – more than half (52 per cent) of all our UK alumni and 21 per cent of all our alumni.
  • The University sports facilities at both Colchester and Southend campuses are open to the local community and there are currently over 600 public members.
  • 850 students a year volunteer in the local community through Essex Students’ Union vTeam programmes – contributing to 35 projects and providing 7,200 hours of volunteering.
  • The infrastructure for the Knowledge Gateway in Colchester has now been completed and, with the support of partners including Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council and UKTI, will provide knowledge-based businesses with the opportunity to locate on the University campus and benefit from our research strengths. Loan funding from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership is enabling the University to begin building an office village, the first phase of a scheme that will see the creation of some 37,000 square metres of space and 2,000 new jobs.
  • University arts events attract 23,000 visitors to the Colchester campus each year. 45 per cent of visitors to the Lakeside Theatre in Colchester and 40 per cent of visitors to the art gallery Art Exchange are from the local community. There were more than 6,000 visitors to University events at the University’s Clifftown Theatre in Southend and nearly 5,000 at the Corbett Theatre at our Loughton Campus.

All these activities contribute to our local communities in many positive ways and I know how much they are valued.

But as we approach our 50th Anniversary in 2014, it is also timely to ask ourselves, our neighbours and the representatives of our county some challenging questions:

  • What are our respective expectations of an internationally-oriented university committed to excellence in research and excellence in education?
  • What should the relationship be like between the University and communities across Essex and the region? How might we further strengthen our bonds?
  • What can and should be the role of the University in promoting economic growth, creating jobs and contributing socially and culturally to the county of Essex?

These are tough questions and there are no quick or easy answers, but thinking through the answers with our local and regional partners will help us better understand and articulate ‘good neighbourliness’ and the regional role for an international university created in Essex.

Professor Anthony Forster
Vice-Chancellor, University of Essex