Leicester's v-c thinks globally and locally

March 31, 2000

Ask an academic to list members of the Russell Group of elite research universities and Leicester will probably be on the list.

In fact, Leicester University is not a Russell Group institution, but there are many, including its new vice-chancellor, Bob Burgess, who think it should be. Such an ambition may come as little surprise given Leicester's strong reputation for world-class research.

With the benefit of an outsider's view, Professor Burgess, who was senior pro vice-chancellor at Warwick University until six months ago, lists Leicester's internationally renowned work in genetics, space science, architecture, psychology and English local history among its key strengths. The need for a new graduate school is a "weakness" that he is addressing.

But Professor Burgess has other, perhaps less predictable, aspirations. Would-be Russell Group institutions are not usually characterised by a mission to open their doors to the community, recruit more local students, widen participation and develop lifelong learning, but that is another direction in which Professor Burgess believes Leicester should go.

The university must aim to become "a virtual institute of lifelong learning" - which "can develop everything from courses to art exhibitions" to find different ways to "service people's needs and open opportunities".

"This is something every department can contribute to. The virtual institute is the vehicle through which people can develop courses, whether award-bearing, vocational, part-time or continuing professional development."

Leicester is not altogether new to this market. Nearly 30 per cent of its full-time equivalent students come from within 30 miles. Its distance-learning programmes have more than 5,000 students, its short courses more than 21,000.

Professor Burgess believes he can reconcile an entrepreneurial approach to research and a strong local focus. "We have to think laterally about opportunities."

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