Lorna Fox O’Mahony

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Designate), University of Essex

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"We are helping to make Colchester a world-class knowledge borough at the forefront of the digital revolution"

How would you best describe your organisation and its values?

The University of Essex is dedicated to exploring new ways of thinking, and putting our ideas into practice to improve the world around us. We’re proud to be Gold rated in the Teaching Excellence Framework 2017 and ranked 22nd in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide (TGUG 2017). We’re committed to excellence in teaching and excellence in research and we deliver these commitments by valuing inclusivity, partnership and creativity.

When did your organisation begin and how has it evolved to date?

We were founded in 1964 with the dual mission of conducting research at the cutting-edge of innovation and technology, and preparing graduates to meet the challenges of the modern world. This mission remains at the heart of everything we do and we’re constantly evolving to meet the challenges of today and the future. We aim to support our students to fulfil their potential as individuals within our truly global community, and we deliver research which helps improve people’s lives in the UK and around the world. We’re proud of our top 15 ranking (for the fifth year running) in the National Student Survey, and to be the 15th most international university in the world (Times Higher Education April 2017).

How big is the organisation now?

The University is home to over 13,000 students and we’re a major regional employer with  more than 2,100 staff. We contribute over £500million each year to the East of England economy, with an economic impact of £478m in Colchester alone. Our students come from more than 140 countries, with over a third from outside the UK. This makes us the most international mainstream university in the UK outside London.

How do you see your organisation evolving over the next five years?

We’re just starting work on developing our next strategic plan for the period 2019 to 2025. This will focus on driving forward research and innovation to meet emerging challenges, and ensuring that our graduates have the skills and capabilities they will need for the future. We will be building on the success of our existing strategic plan which has seen us make incredible progress so far towards our target of 50% growth by 2019. At the same time we’ve significantly expanded our academic staff numbers and we’re investing substantially in our facilities.

What are the advantages of being a Colchester-based organisation?

We want to help make Colchester a world-class knowledge borough at the forefront of the digital revolution. We’re fortunate to have strong partnerships with organisations and businesses that share our huge ambitions for Colchester and the wider region. We’re working closely with businesses, industry, leading sector organisations, local authorities, and economic growth partnerships to realise our aims by enabling access to the right facilities, business support, and R&D innovation expertise., 

What are the biggest challenges for business in Colchester?

Colchester is renowned for its entrepreneurial spirit: as well as hosting some large businesses, it is home to a high volume of small-scale freelancers and microbusinesses. These businesses typically face barriers of scale that inhibit productivity and growth. This is one of the reasons why we have invested significantly in connectivity and business clusters, on the University’s Knowledge Gateway and at the Creative Business Centre in the town centre. Clustering enables smaller businesses, particularly in key growth sectors like data science, artificial intelligence, digital and creative industries and agri-tech, to access relevant support, workspace, networking, research expertise and finance.

As the town expands, what opportunities does this create for business and for the town generally?

Colchester offers major opportunities for knowledge-led businesses to build their businesses through a skilled graduate workforce, to draw on the R&D expertise of world-leading researchers, and to be part of a vibrant community working in partnership to meet future challenges and achieve economic growth. 

What do you see as the most important focus for Colchester’s future and why?

To continue working effectively, in partnership, to identify and deliver ambitious plans for Colchester; strong partnerships enable us to go further, faster, in realising the next phase of our ambitions for Colchester.