John Marriott: “Gaudeamus igitur, Iuvenes dum sumus”- Let’s praise the Lincoln University success story!

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I bet it’s not often that you get a column title partly in Latin on The Lincolnite!

Actually, fans of musicals and film buffs will probably recognise the words from Sigmund Romberg’s 1924 light operetta, ‘The Student Prince’, which also featured in the 1954 MGM musical of the same name.

Roughly translated it means “Let us rejoice, therefore, While we are young” and actually dates back to the Middle Ages.

That’s often the view that many people still have of university students. Certainly some residents of Lincoln’s West End would still appear to resent the exuberant behaviour often associated with those studying and living nearby. However, what they tend to forget is just what having a university in Lincoln at last has brought to the city.

Some people, myself included, were surprised that a place like Lincoln hadn’t had such a seat of learning since way back when, given its status in the Middle Ages as an important centre of commerce. After all, it, or at least its castle and some of its streets, had proved the ideal backdrop for the 1962 film of university life, “The Wild and the Willing”, which featured the screen debuts of none other than Ian “Lovejoy” McShane and Lincoln’s own John Hurt.

A former teacher colleague of mine had actually worked as an extra during one of his vacations whilst a student himself. Well, by modern standards, the young men weren’t that wild and the young ladies weren’t that willing – but that’s another story! If you have a spare hour and a half you can still catch it on YouTube. So you can make up your own mind. The location scenes also act as a time capsule of how Lincoln used to look back then.

We had to wait until 1992 for Lincoln to achieve ‘University status’ and even then there was opposition from some quarters. Besides the apparent lack of interest shown by some in the Tory led county council at the time, the main argument was where the university should be sited.

Many people felt that the recently released St John’s Hospital site should be used rather than to try to adapt the Brayford area, possibly because some diehards thought that Bracebridge Heath was far enough out of town to prove a more suitable containment area for all those excitable young people who could be descending from some of the more ‘sophisticated’ areas of the country on an otherwise relatively quiet rural city.

However, there was a change of regime at County Hall following the 1993 local elections and the incoming Lib/Lab administration pushed ahead despite continuing scepticism and, against the perceived wisdom, on the city centre site.

It was thanks largely to the new county council leader, Labour’s Councillor Rob Parker and his Lib Dem Deputy, the late Councillor Maurice French, not forgetting, of course, the good auspices of the University of Humberside, that I was lucky enough to be at the gathering to witness the official launch by Richard Branson at the county showground not long afterwards.

Since taking its first students in 1996 and parting company with Hull some time later, after a far from easy gestation period, the University is now rated amongst the top 50 institutions in the UK and in the top 10 amongst postgraduate and international students.

This year it has been awarded Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework, while its Institute of Agri-Food Technology based at Riseholme is enjoying an international reputation. And let’s not forget its links with Siemens UK. It has come a long way these past 20 years.

More to the point, it has rejuvenated the Brayford area and brought a new vibrancy to the city centre. I just wonder how much capital investment in other areas it has brought to Lincoln.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to those visionaries who stuck to their guns to make the new university the success it has proved to be. A few high jinks are a small price to pay.

After all, as the song goes; “Gaudeamus…. etc”. Come on, we were all young once!

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