Campus close-up: University of Lincoln

Built almost 20 years ago on derelict land, the institution is now the beating heart of the community

May 8, 2014

For vice-chancellor Mary Stuart, the University of Lincoln can best be defined as “a 21st-century civic university”.

She says: “We always talk about this campus being established out of derelict railway lines, the whole process of decontaminating land and creating this new campus out of nothing.”

What was then the University of Humberside, granted university status in 1992, established the new campus around the old docks of Brayford Pool in 1996. It has grown by roughly one building a year, around the barges and swans, ever since.

The Great Central Warehouse became the university library in 2004, the old Engine Shed was fitted out with bars and a live music venue in 2006, but most of the other structures were purpose-built.

Although her own background is in street theatre and subsequently sociology, Professor Stuart has greatly boosted the university’s science provision since her appointment as vice-chancellor in 2009. Her aim, she says, was “to ensure we have a full range of ‘classical’ disciplines”.

Central to this was the creation of a new School of Engineering building, opened in 2011, in partnership with local company Siemens, which now has its training school on site.

Last year pharmacy, this year chemistry, and next year mathematics and physics, are being taught at Lincoln for the first time. “Linda”, the automated security guard, is the public face of a much wider programme of robotics research, which covers everything from direct agricultural applications to exploring human-robot interaction. And a new science and innovation park, in partnership with Lincolnshire Co-op, is expected to open in the summer.

The main tourist attractions of Lincoln are its castle and the cathedral, with its extensive archives and beautiful Wren Library. The city also owns one of only four original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta as well as the 1217 Charter of the Forest, which granted rights to the general populace as well as the aristocracy. They are soon to be displayed in a new vault in the castle.

The university will be closely involved in next year’s events to commemorate Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary, with conferences, a young people’s symposium on digital democracy, and opportunities for student volunteering and for building links with the US institutions where the Lincoln Magna Carta is shortly to go on tour.

These precious local assets also mean that the university has actively developed closer ties with the city and built up its coverage in medieval studies, with a new research group bringing together forensic anthropologists, chemists, life scientists, historians and even experts in media studies exploring how the Middle Ages are presented today. A single librarian is now responsible for the special collections of both the university and the cathedral.

The arts and sciences also come together in the Lincoln School of Art and Design, home to 1,500 students, whose new building opened last year.

Rather unusually, conservation and restoration are also taught there, with the latest in 3D printing, colour-scanning and laser technology being applied to the reproduction of Victorian tiles or repair of damaged artefacts.

Crick Smith, a conservation consultancy specialising in historic paint analysis, has acquired English Heritage’s paint archive and hopes to use this as a basis for a broader national archive of historic decoration.

Although more than 50 per cent of students still come from within an 80-mile radius of Lincoln, the past four years have seen the proportion of international students jump from 2 to 12 per cent.

This is just one aspect of wider plans to diversify income streams, through research, consultancy and educational contracts, including one with the NHS to train nurses across the county.

As both a research-active expert in the subject and someone whose father was “a home-grown Irish intellectual who left school at 12 but taught himself to read Plato and enthused me with a love of Shakespeare”, Professor Stuart has a strong but realistic commitment to widening access.

“About 37 per cent of our students, which is quite high in the sector, come from family backgrounds with incomes under £25,000,” she explains. “Over 50 per cent attract some form of financial assistance under our Office of Fair Access agreement. We work with all schools in Lincolnshire, provide masterclasses, mentoring schemes and bursaries for 16- to 18-year-olds, again as part of our Offa agreement, to help students stay on in schools and complete their studies.

“We introduced a sixth form into an academy school in the South of Lincolnshire, which has since had progressively more students going on to university,” she adds.

In numbers

37% of Lincoln’s students come from families with an income of under £25,000

Campus news

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