Every year offers its own unique challenges to society, and as each new year rolls around I find myself contemplating how we can use the expertise we have at Lincoln to help the community we serve.
As a 21st Century university we have the responsibility, capability, and opportunity to support the community we live and work in by solving pressing issues ranging from helping businesses adapt to technological change, to boosting the health of local people, improving education and training and developing new civic leaders in fields from politics to the arts – this is why we are leading universities in the development of Civic University Agreements, pledging to put Lincoln and Lincolnshire always at the top of our list of priorities.
This year we have worked closely with our Further Education partners across the Greater Lincolnshire area to support a new Institute of Technology to help educate and train people across the county in new emerging technologies. This will support businesses in towns across the county working with FE colleges, giving the University a presence in lots of our towns, supporting young people and our business communities up and down Greater Lincolnshire.
Our responsibilities also have a global reach, as the world-leading research we have developed in Lincolnshire effects change on a tangible level in some of the vital areas of need, locally, nationally and internationally.
The global food chain is under pressure from population growth, climate change, pressures affecting migration, population drift from rural to urban regions, and the demographics of an ageing population in advanced economies. To answer some of those pressures, in February we created the world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) for agri-food robotics in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia.
This new advanced training centre, which is training the first cohort of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) specialists for the global food and farming sectors, was created after Lincoln’s excellence in this field was recognised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to do further work in this area.
It enables us do one of the things we are most proud of as a university: tackle global issues through excellent research in partnership with those in industry who will directly benefit from the advances we make. We have created the UK’s first global centre of excellence in agri-robotics research to bring together world-leading expertise in robotics, artificial intelligence and agriculture, based on the site of the university’s working farm.
We have also grown our world-leading research into other vital challenges for society in Lincolnshire and beyond, such as the challenging environment of our health service and the health of our society. We are also addressing business needs in advanced technologies, questions of sustainability and water and soil health and enhancing our environment.
Our commitment to serving our communities is being delivered through the first cohort of medical school students to start their degree studies at Lincoln in September. The medicine course is delivered in partnership with the University of Nottingham, supported by local health trusts, and will address shortages of doctors by offering first class training that will encourage graduates to complete their junior doctor training locally and apply for jobs in the region. We have also grown the provision for nurses, midwives, physiotherapists and paramedics to support the skills shortages in the health service.
Along with this investment into the local skills pool, we have also invested in the campus itself and are currently building our new Lincoln Medical School building due to open in 2021 – we have ambitions for this to be our most sustainable building to date on campus. Earlier this year we joined with other organisations and institutions across the world to declare a climate emergency.
This challenge must be taken seriously if, as a global community, this threat is to be confronted. This will not be easy and we will not always get it right but it will, as it should in a university, be informed by research and science to help us make the best decisions. Our researchers are also working on the global scale, advancing understanding of the causes of extreme weather events internationally, the scale of Greenland ice sheet melting, and addressing what is required to develop good international environmental law.
Our university can only achieve these ambitions through the dedication of our staff, our students, and the businesses, organisations and individuals who support us, particularly in our city, county and region.
As a university our inclination is always to look ahead and I know that next year will present new challenges and opportunities for us all – we are excited to take on those challenges.
I wish you all happiness, peace and success in 2020. Thank you again to everyone for their continued support.
Professor Mary Stuart is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln. She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town and the Open University, where she obtained her Doctorate in Social Policy in 1998. Her research interests are focused on life histories, social mobility, higher education students and community development.