Academic facilities are also being upgraded. The School of Health and Social Care opened a new therapy suite hub in September 2022, featuring flexible teaching spaces, 15 consultation rooms and specialist laboratories for nursing skills, and speech and language therapy. Two community living spaces provide a simulated home environment in which occupational therapy students can hone their practical skills. The School of Life Sciences has extended its marine biology and aquatic sciences laboratory and is planning new Growth Rooms, a research facility where the internationally acclaimed Plant Productivity Group will continue to study how to improve crop photosynthesis.
The campus improvements should help to keep rates of student satisfaction on their upward trajectory. Having lost ground during the pandemic, Essex rises 33 places in our analysis of satisfaction with the wider undergraduate experience to rank 53rd, based on results from the latest National Student Survey. The university also gains 25 places for student satisfaction with teaching quality, now ranking 92=.
Social sciences are the longstanding strongest suit at Essex. In the latest QS global rankings 2022, the university is in the top 50 for politics and the top 55 for sociology. In the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021), politics, sociology, economics and a number of modern languages performed strongly. Across all subject areas, 83 per cent of the submission from academics at Essex was rated world-leading or internationally excellent, the top two categories. Although it had edged up from almost 80 per cent in the previous national assessment in 2014, other institutions did even better this time around: Essex drops 16 places to 41st in our research quality index.
In 2021 the university was 43rd in our main academic rankings, and now sits in 54th place. In 2017 it was in our top 25 and shortlisted for our University of the Year award.
Essex received a gold rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), commended for its use of student feedback to develop “rigorous and stretching teaching that is tailored to student needs”. The TEF panel said: “Students from all backgrounds achieve outstanding outcomes with regard to continuation and progression to highly skilled employment or further study.”
Most undergraduates are based in Colchester at the main campus in the historic 200-acre Wivenhoe Park. There are also university sites in Southend-on-Sea and Loughton in Essex. The modern seaside campus at Southend has courses in business, health and the arts, and its accommodation complex houses a gym and fitness studio. A new nursing laboratory is in development at Southend with consultation rooms and space for practical teaching, and improved provision for oral health students is on the way.
The £19 million Parkside phase of the university’s Knowledge Gateway research and technology park in Colchester will incorporate the new Institute of Public Health and Wellbeing. New teaching facilities for healthcare will be available in person and via video link. The East 15 Acting School, which was founded more than 60 years ago and counts the actress Alison Steadman and director Stephen Daldry among its alumni, merged with the university in 2000 and has a theatre in Southend and another campus in Loughton.
Essex enjoyed seven years of consistent growth in enrolments until 2020. But they fell by about 22 per cent year-on-year in the 2021 admissions cycle. Applications fell less sharply, by about 8 per cent.
New courses may go some way to attract more students. The first global sustainability students start degree courses in September 2022 and eight other programmes have been added to the curriculum, with options for a foundation year, a year abroad or a work placement, including ecology and environmental biology, artificial intelligence, journalism and film, drama and creative writing, business administration and supply chain management, social work, and politics with criminology.
Essex remains determined to maintain its longstanding European links post-Brexit. It has established cross-discipline partnerships with European universities to enrich research and learning opportunities. As a member of the Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) alliance of ten research-intensive universities — alongside Maastricht in the Netherlands and Bremen in Germany — it is also involved in plans for a European university where students could compile their own curriculum from courses offered by partner institutions to earn a diploma.
Essex’s student population is unusually diverse for a pre-1992 university, and climbs 24 places in our social inclusion chart to rank 30th. About 44 per cent of students are drawn from ethnic minorities and almost half are first-generation students whose parents did not attend university. One in seven come from areas that send the fewest children into higher education.
Essex runs a range of outreach programmes for students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in higher education. Under the V16 Project, four local sixth forms use the Essex campus to teach A-levels they otherwise could not offer to small student cohorts. The university hosts activities every month for the sixth-formers, inviting them to undergraduate lectures, bringing in motivational speakers and offering taster sessions. Campus visits by wider groups of schools, sixth forms and colleges take place throughout the year too.
The student development team works with employers of all sizes to help students gain career insights, work experience and commercial awareness. At the university’s career café events, students meet alumni who can offer insights in their chosen field. Real-world business challenges give students a taste of life after university and there are large-scale recruitment drives for students on campus and online. The university's graduate prospects ranking has improved by 15 places to 68th.
Every student is allocated a wellbeing adviser throughout their studies who can help with confidence-building, coping strategies and independence. There is a drop-in service for concerns about mental health and counselling is available.
The £12 million Essex Sport Arena has seating for 1,655 spectators and hosts the university’s professional basketball teams, the Essex Rebels. The arena is part of a 40-acre sports area that includes an 18-hole frisbee-golf course, all-weather tennis courts and room for five-a-side football.