The University of Lincoln’s new vice-chancellor, Professor Mary Stuart, took over the top job on the first of November. After a few weeks of settling into the position, The Linc sat down with her to find out about her plans for the university’s future.
“I want Lincoln to be recognised as a top-class university, and I want it to be recognised both in the UK and across the globe as a top-class university,” she says.
Before coming to Lincoln and taking over from Professor David Chiddick, who will officially retire at the end of the year, she was deputy vice-chancellor at Kingston University in London, and brings a wealth of academic and managerial experience to the role.
Expanding on what “top-class” means, Stuart says: “We need to be an institution that is known for the particular niche around teaching that we offer, we need to have particular strengths in research, so that both students are learning from top people in their field, but also that other staff want to, from other universities, want to engage with us and work with us.”
“High quality teaching, good research, and a strong student experience are key to our future,” Stuart says, “That is what I come from, what I expect, and where very much we will be developing.
“I feel passionately about the role of the university as an academic environment,” but that the student experience is fundamental, and says the university is putting an emphasis on the areas of the National Student Survey where they scored badly, such as Performing Arts.
“We have to have a dialogue with our students, which means that we are continually trying to improve, it’s not something that stands still. That doesn’t mean you can do everything they ask for, it’s more about when you can’t being able to explain what the constraints are.”
Another important part of improving the student experience, she says, is offering the right extra-curricular activities: “I did some research a couple of years ago, and it clearly indicated that getting a first or 2:1 is not enough in order to get that good job, you have to have other things on your CV. We need to make sure we’ve got the right mix, [so] that all our students can participate.”
The focus on these areas signals a break from Chiddick, whose time at the university was spent changing the institution from the old University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, and building the modern campus that dominates the waterfront.
“I think that any university at different times has different needs, and when you think that the university was only established as the University of Lincoln in 2001, you are looking at the need to grow and building,” Stuart says.
“But yes, I am different,” she says, citing again her focus on teaching, research, and the student experience.
The ongoing growth of the university and plans that were started under Chiddick fit very well with Stuart’s vision for the university. “The fact that [the Faculty of Business and Law] is going to be with a front onto the High Street, that will make a huge difference”, in further integrating the university with the city, she says.
“There is more we can do with the city. We’re now starting an engineering faculty, so that will bring a huge number of new kinds of skills, and that’s a partnership with a global business that happens to be located locally, and that’s Siemens. There’s more we can do around that.
“We are concerned about our city, we’re concerned about business in the area, we’re concerned about the development of the economy, we should be doing work for them,” Stuart says. Working with business will also help ween the university off government support, she hopes.
The University of Lincoln is currently the seventh most dependent university on funds from the Higher education funding council for England (Hefce). Other universities get far more funds from private sources.
“[The situation] does concern me, and I think it needs to be changed. One of the reasons why it concerns me is that the public sector is going to be facing cuts in the next few years, and if you are very dependent on public funding you will feel those cuts much more than an organisation that has different streams of income.”
But it’s not just the prospect of cuts that require this to be changed, she says: “Unless we can diversify our income we will not have the scope to be able to develop the university the way we want to.”
Stuart says that Lincoln is “a 21st century-relevant university, [one] that is kind of an updated version of the big civic universities,” and so the institution should involve itself with outside groups and help provide practical services and expertise.
On the research the research the university should undertake in the future, she says: “[It] has to be relevant research, I think that’s the sort of institution that we are. It’s got to be useful research, and that leads us into that other area that I think we need to be known for, and that is being enterprising and entrepreneurial, and working with business, the third sector, the arts, those sorts of things.”
Click here to listen to The Linc‘s whole interview with Professor Mary Stuart.