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Essex University

University of Essex
Motto Thought the harder, heart the keener.
Established 1965 – gained University Status by Royal Charter
1964 – beginning of first academic year
Type Public
Endowment £5.62 million[1]
Chancellor Lord Phillips of Sudbury OBE
Admin. staff 1,836
Students 10,960[1]
Undergraduates 8,115[1]
Postgraduates 2,845[1]
Location Colchester, Essex, UK
Campus Wivenhoe Park – Over 200 acres.
Colors Red and Purple          
Affiliations 1994 Group
File:Essex Uni Logo.png

The University of Essex is a British public research university whose original and largest campus is near the town of Colchester, England. It was established in 1963 and received its Royal Charter in 1965.

The university's main campus is located within Wivenhoe Park in the English county of Essex, less than a mile (1.6 km) from the town of Wivenhoe & 2 miles (3.2 km) from the town of Colchester. Apart from the Wivenhoe Park campus, there is a rapidly developing campus in Southend-on-Sea (Essex's largest town), and the East 15 Acting School is based in Loughton. The University's motto, Thought the harder, heart the keener, is adapted from the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon. The university enjoys collaborative partnerships with a number of institutions across the eastern region. These are University Campus Suffolk, Colchester Institute, Kaplan Open Learning (KOL), South Essex College and Writtle College.

The university exhibits an international character with 132 countries represented in its student body. The latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 2008 ranked Essex ninth in the UK for the quality of its research with more than 90% of research recognised internationally for its quality, with 22% of research rated as 'world leading'.[2][3] The university is referenced by QS World University Rankings as a world leader in social science, with internationally-recognised strengths in the humanities.[4]



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, Dr Albert Sloman, MA, DPhil, Gilmour Professor of Spanish and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Liverpool, was appointed as Vice-Chancellor and the Rt. Hon. R A (later Lord) Butler, CH, MP, was invited to be Chancellor, with Mr A 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".


In October 1964, the first 122 students 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 open 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: Dr 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, plus the 'Topping out' of 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.

The 1960s

Essex University 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 Inch from Porton Down came to give a lecture at the university. In a carefully planned demonstration, an indictment was read out as Dr 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.

Wyvern 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 ”.

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.[5]

In 1987 Professor 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's 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.[5]

2000 to present

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 University's 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 University's Mathematics Department from 2001–2005. He retired in September 2008.

The university is constantly expanding. The Network Centre building opened in May 2004 housing the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering and parts of the Department of Computer Science (who merged in 2007 to create Computer and Electronic Systems). The 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.[6][7] In Southend[8] the £26m Gateway Building opened in 2007, a former church been converted to the Clifftown Town Centre providing East 15 students with studios and workshop spaces. University Square, a 560 bedroom development near to the Gateway building opened in September 2010. At Wivenhoe Park, the 'Social Science Research Centre' was completed in February 2007, housing the University's Institute of Social and Economic Research and the UK Data Archive. A new building for the School of Health and Human Sciences was opened in 2008, as was the 'Centre for Brain Science' housing part of the Psychology department. Work is currently underway on a multi-phase 'Knowledge Gateway' project on the Wivenhoe campus. In 2013 three major projects are due for completion on the Colchester campus: a new Student Centre and Library extension, a new Business School building and The Meadows, a new 540 bedroom student accommodation project. Also in 2013, a new building is due to be completed providing a new library and teaching facilities in Southend.

Wivenhoe House, an 18th-century manor house on Wivenhoe Park, closed in December 2009 and is due to reopen in 2012 as the Edge Hotel School,[9] a four star country house hotel which will also be the UKs first working hotel school dedicated to the development of future leaders of the hotel and hospitality industry.

A panorama of the University of Essex. Foreground: Boundary Road. Background: [L-R] North Accommodation Towers, Networks Centre, Podium, Psychology Building, Psychology Building Extension, South Accommodation Towers, South Courts.


The main campus, Wivenhoe Park, was once painted by famous landscape painter John Constable. With its concrete architecture, it is typical of England's 1960s universities. Wivenhoe Park houses the main 1960s buildings along with an 18th-century house that also features in Constable's painting. Wivenhoe House[10] was, until 2010, operated as a hotel and conference centre. It was closed in December 2010 for major refurbishment and will reopen in 2012 as a combined four-star country house hotel and hotel school.

There are 2 small lakes on campus (in the middle of one is the Vice-Chancellor's house).

The architect of the University of Essex campus 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). As well as the towers, South Courts and the University Quays residences provide enough space to guarantee every first year a place on campus as well as all overseas students. Due to its particular form of architecture involving the use of prefabricated concrete and glass, the university is referred to as a Plate Glass University.

The library has one of the few remaining still operating continuous loop paternoster lifts in the country.

Recent buildings

The Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall, which opened in October 2006 and was designed by the architect Patel Taylor, has attracted a mixed response, with Prince Charles reputedly referring to it as 'like a dustbin'.,[11] while the Civic Trust, a charity of which he is patron, have awarded it a Civic Trust award (2008) for making 'an outstanding contribution to the quality and appearance of the environment',[12] The building was named after Professor Sir Ivor Crewe in April 2007, to mark his retirement from the position of vice chancellor, a position he had held since 1995.[13]

The university's 'Gateway' building in Southend was opened in January 2007, housing the academic activities including business, health and acting, as well as being home to programmes operated in collaboration with Queen Mary Dental School, a GP practice and a business incubation centre.[8]

New buildings have opened housing the departments of Psychology and Health and Human Sciences.

The Tony Rich Teaching Centre, built on the site of the former central boiler house, was officially opened on 6 October 2010.

Departments and Research Centres

The university is organised into four faculties, comprising 18 schools and departments, spanning the Humanities, Law and Management, Social Sciences and Science and Engineering.

Faculty of Humanities and Comparative Studies
Faculty of Law and Management
  • Essex Business School
  • School of Law
  • Human Rights Centre
  • Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution
  • Professional Development Studies
Faculty of Science and Engineering
  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • Department of Mathematical Sciences
  • Department of Psychology
  • School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering
  • School of Health and Human Sciences
Faculty of Social Sciences
  • Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies
  • Department of Economics
  • Department of Government
  • Department of Language and Linguistics
  • Department of Sociology
  • Institute for Social and Economic Research
  • UK Data Archive


Its departments of Economics, Government (Political Science) and Sociology are well-known and are among the best in Europe. Essex's research in politics, economics and sociology received top (5*) ratings in the UK government's 2001 Research Assessment Exercise.[16] The Sociology department is the only in the country to have been awarded the highest rating in all six of the national Research Assessment Exercises (RAE) that have been undertaken since 1986. In the RAE 2008, Essex has reconfirmed its position as the UK’s leading university in the social sciences with Politics and Sociology ranked in first position, and Economics in third position nationally.[2][3] According to Times Higher-QS world ranking exercise, Essex ranks as the 25th best in the world in Sociology and 48th in the field of Politics and International Studies.[17][18]

Also in the RAE 2008, the Essex Business School was ranked second in the UK in the Accounting and Finance subject area, while History was also ranked in second place, Linguistics fourth, and Art History ninth in the UK. The results for History (second in the UK, 35 per cent of research rated ‘world-leading’) and Philosophy (11th in the UK, 20 per cent of research ‘world-leading’) come within months of both departments being ranked second in the UK for overall student satisfaction in the National Student Survey (NSS). Essex featured in the UK’s top ten in half of the 14 subject areas submitted.[3]

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[19] project, a longitudinal study of the socio-economic circumstances and attitudes of 100,000 individuals in 40,000 British households.

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.

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.[20] It has particular strengths in Robotics, Telecommunications, Artificial Intelligence and Logic and Computation. In 1999 a robotic football team from the department came third in the RoboCup 99 - part of the Robot Wars (TV series). Current notable academics in this school include Richard Bartle, best known as co-creator of MUD1,[21] Edward Tsang for his work on constraint satisfaction and computational finance, Professor Ray Turner for his numerous publication relating to Logic and Computation,[22] Professor Vic Callaghan as head of the Intelligent Environments Group (IEG)[23] and Simon Lucas for his research into Computational Intelligence and Computer Games namely for his research with the UK Research Network on Artificial Intelligence and Video Game technologies.[24] In the Research Assessment Exercise 2008 the University of Essex scored well in Computer Science and Informatics achieving 50% for research at level 3 of the RAE scale and 40% at level 3 in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.[25]

The Photonics Hyperhighway project began in 2010 and is planned to run for six years. It was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with an aims to focus on energy-efficient ultra high capacity ICT infrastructure. The project plans to make broadband internet 100 times faster including partnership with the BBC to help broadcast ultra high definition content.[26]

The Master degrees in Computational Finance.

The Institute of Democracy and Conflict Resolution (IDCR),[27] is planning a new flagship building on the Knowledge Gateway part of the Colchester campus, having appointed world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, an alumnus of the university.

Partner institutions

The university has strong regional agenda and a number of partner institutions in the region: Colchester Institute,[28] South Essex College[29] (in Southend), Writtle College (near Chelmsford),[30] the Tavistock and Portman Trust[26] (in London) and University Campus Suffolk, a joint venture with the University of East Anglia, with a central campus in Ipswich and five centres in Suffolk and Norfolk. Its latest partner is Kaplan Open Learning,[31] delivering on-line foundation degrees.


Essex is among the smallest multi-faculty universities in Britain and is a member of the 1994 Group. Despite its small size, Essex has developed an international reputation for teaching and research. The annual Summer School in Social Science Data Analysis and Collection,[32] now approaching its 41st year, attracts faculty and students from all over the world as does the human rights centre[33] celebrating its 25th year.

The university was known as a left-wing hotbed with respect to faculty and students, but today is characterized, as most UK campuses, by rather less radical student politics.

The University of Essex was rated ninth in the UK in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE, 2008)[3] and was in the top 20 for student satisfaction, amongst mainstream English universities, following the National Student Survey (NSS, 2011).[34]

The 2010 Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Professor Christopher Pissarides who gained his BA and MA degrees in Economics at the university in the early 1970s.

Despite a national trend, showing a drop in the number of applications to Higher Education institutions; applications to the University of Essex have increased by 46% in the last four years. Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex, Professor Colin Riordan, said:

“This is an encouraging sign that students are recognising the value of an Essex degree.”[35]


(2013, national)
(2013, world)
(2013/14, national)
(2013/14, world)
(2013/14, national)
(2013/14, world)
(2014, national)
The Guardian[40]
(2014, national)
Times/Sunday Times[41]
(2014, national)

According to the Times Higher-QS world ranking exercise, the university faculty areas of Social Sciences and Management and Arts & Humanities ranks at 71 and 272 respectively. [42] The university also performs well in the Guardian, Times and The Independent Rankings for universities. It was placed 31st in the Guardian's 2009 League Table,[43] 34th in the Times 2009 Good University Guides,[44] and 25th in The Independent's University Guide 2009.[45]

The university confirmed its position as one of the UK’s elite research universities when it was ranked as the 9th-best university in the UK for the quality of its research in The Times, The Guardian, and The Independent's 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) tables.[46][47]

A separate Subject Ranking of Political Science Departments by Simon Hix of the London School of Economics places the University's Government Department 2nd in UK and 17th worldwide from 1995–1999. [48]

Student life

Student body

The university has a very large population of international students, with over 4,235 international students in 2011.[1] Nearly 50% of postgraduates, and 40% undergraduates are students whose country of origin is outside of the UK (including EU). The university boasts a large proportion of local students from state schools, and a third of its undergraduates are from working-class homes.

Students' Union

The University of Essex Students' Union is well regarded nationally with awards including: officially recognised as a leading Students’ Union by the Students’ Union Evaluation Initiative, awarded Investors In People status as a good employer, winner of Sound Impact Environmental Award for ethical and environmental performance, Sub Zero was voted ‘Best Student Venue in the UK’ at the Smirnoff BEDA Awards. Some of the major music bands to play in Sub Zero include AC/DC, Blur, Iggy Pop, The Kinks, Can, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The Smiths and The Specials.[49]

The Students' Union runs the majority of commercial services on campus. Its shops stock imported food products, reflecting the university's international community. It has licensed venues including the SU bar and club-style venues: Frango's, Level 2, and Sub Zero (formerly the Underground and before that the Dancehall), which have hosted many bands and DJs. Sub Zero was voted best student union venue upon its refurbishment and is one of the biggest in the country, with a capacity of over 1,200. The Students' Union Bar underwent a £400,000 refurbishment in the summer of 2010.

The Students Union employs about 380 student staff and 50 permanent staff to work in its shops, venues, etc. The University of Essex Students Union was the first SU in the UK to receive the 'Investors in people Gold' award in late 2009.[50]

The Students' Union underwent reform in 2007-8, in which the trustee and executive functions were separated, and greater voice was given to satellite campuses. The Executive Committee is composed of seven full-time officers and six part-time officer. The Students' Union is a member of the National Union of Students.


The university has sports clubs, including for sports such as Brightlingsea.

Once a year, 'Derby Day' is a 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.

Links with industry

Through the 1990s, and the influence of policy activity in the United States stimulated by the Bayh-Dole Act, the British Government wanted to strengthen links between universities and industry. The University of Essex has received grants from the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) delivered by HEFCE and other government departments to develop such capacity. A Research and Enterprise Office has been established, which is to be complemented with the development of a research park adjacent to the campus.[51] Links between the university and industry have mostly been found within the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering (CSEE). CSEE has maintained a long standing relationship with the Japanese photography and printing company, Canon, as well as links with British Telecom.

Notable alumni

The former President of Costa Rica, Óscar Arias, completed his doctorate in Political Science at the University in 1973, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. Ex-Vice President of Costa Rica, Kevin Casas Zamora, also completed his studies in Essex, earning a MA in Latin American Government & Politics in 1993. In Oct 2010, the Nobel Economics prize was jointly awarded to Christopher A. Pissarides, who had completed his BA and MA in Economics at the University of Essex 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 and John Bercow, now Speaker of the House of Commons, Labour Party MP Siobhain McDonagh, 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 taking 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 of Essex since 2001), the Artistic Director William Burdett-Coutts (MA Drama), the Documentary Filmmaker Nick Broomfield, filmmaker David Yates, the TV comedy producer Geoff Posner, the Malaysian Poet Kee Thuan Chye, the veteran BBC Correspondent Brian Hanrahan, and the Booker-prize winning novelist Ben Okri. Musicians include jazz guitarist John Etheridge and jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon.

In the field of architecture, world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, who was commissioned to rebuild the World Trade Center Site in New York City, attended Essex and completed an MA in the History and Theory of Architecture in 1972. The architectural historian Alberto Pérez-Gómez, subsequently head of the History and Theory of Architecture program at McGill University in Canada, obtained his M.A. and PhD degrees at Essex, graduating in 1975.

Many of the university's graduates have gone on to staff university departments worldwide. Examples include the late Professor Erkin Bairam (Economics, Otago), Professor Kusuma Karunaratne (Sinhala, Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and Vice-Chancellor, Colombo), Dr. Farish A. Noor (NTU), Professor Michael Taylor (Politics, Washington) and Professor Jean Drèze (Economics, Delhi). It has been estimated that half of the sociology professors in UK Higher Education have completed all or part of their education at Essex.[52] Some graduates have returned to Essex to hold positions within the university's academic departments. These include the philosopher Simon Critchley, Dean of International Development, Martin Henson and the Director of Essex's Human Right's Centre, John Packer.

External links

  • University of Essex website
  • University of Essex 50th Anniversary
  • University of Essex Students' Union
  • May 1968 events


Coordinates: 51°52′35″N 0°56′42″E / 51.87633°N 0.94487°E / 51.87633; 0.94487

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