For many, the start of a new year signals an opportunity for new beginnings. We look on in anticipation, and dare I say optimism for the year ahead. I, for one, am excited for 2022 and beyond.

Later this month, I will be officiating at my first graduation ceremonies as Vice Chancellor at the University of Lincoln. I am truly honoured to be involved – graduation is not simply a formal tradition, but the celebration of an academic journey and a real milestone in any student’s life. It is a recognition of all they have achieved and marks a new beginning for them. I am looking forward to the ceremonies in the magnificent cathedral. It is one of the few places of sufficient grandeur in the UK that matches the scale of our graduates’ achievements.

These new graduates will be joining global family of tens of thousands of Lincoln alumni from a vast variety of countries, backgrounds and professions who are all united by a shared experience. These alumni have a rich collection of stories to tell of how being at university, and particularly at Lincoln, has transformed their lives.

Their experiences range from those who were first in their family to go to university, to graduates who have continued their journey with post-graduate study, to people who have spent years in employment before making the decision to go to university and start a new chapter. They are from all walks of life and of all ages and have gone on to do great things and make a real difference to their communities.

Independent research continues to show that being a graduate increases lifetime income and accelerates career progression with respect to those who do not have a degree. Lincoln graduates continue to look forward to better career prospects. However, the nature of careers and patterns of employment over a working life continually change and we prepare our students for that.

As a new resident of our city I continue to learn about its rich history every day. After 11th century heights, Lincoln suffered post the Reformation, only to grow again and accumulate wealth in the agricultural and industrial revolutions. And although the mid-20th century saw a downturn in industry, I believe that we could now be driving new growth for the region through the next industrial and agricultural revolutions.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a phrase that encompasses how increased digital interconnectivity and smart automation of the 21st century is changing how products are produced, distributed, used and serviced. There is need to use some of the technology driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution to significantly improve the productivity, efficiency and sustainability in the way our food is grown, harvested, and distributed. This will drive the next agricultural revolution.

Our Schools of Engineering and Computer Science in Lincoln, the Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology at Riseholme, and the National Centre for Food Manufacturing at Holbeach are all providing education through apprenticeships and degrees, driving research, and supporting industry in starting this new revolution. These efforts will result in increased prosperity in Lincolnshire where, as a university, we are already contributing over £430 million a year to the economy.

I’m committed to ensuring the university continues to develop and lead the way in upskilling the region in these areas. We continue to develop new courses that will grow the pipeline of talent. We are working with schools to help them prepare their students for the workforce or for further and higher education and, at the university, we provide short courses for local industry and undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programmes.

If you, or somebody you know is thinking of starting a new chapter in their lives by studying for a degree, I’d implore them to come and visit the university on an open day. It’s a great way to see the huge range opportunities we have available. Beginning on January 22, we will be hosting several postgraduate open days. We know that having a higher-level qualification such as a master’s degree is becoming increasingly important as the UK economy develops post-pandemic, and it can provide people young and older, with an opportunity to get ahead in their chosen profession, or to retrain and begin a new journey.

I feel we can look forward with optimism in 2022, because, and it’s the same thing I will say to our newest graduates celebrating this month, what makes this moment so special is knowing opportunities will only grow from here. The trick will be to make the most of them as they arise.

New Year Honours:

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all in our community mentioned in the Queen’s New Years’ honours. A special mention goes to the University’s Chair of the Board of Governors, Diane Lees CBE who has been awarded a Damehood for services to museums and heritage, and former Lincoln student and Paralympic gold medallist Sophie Wells on her OBE for services to equestrianism. I also congratulate our most recent University of Lincoln Honourand, Professor Jonathan Van Tam on his Knighthood for services to public health.

Professor Neal Juster is Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln

I am a very new member of the Lincoln community, and I am delighted to be here as the third Vice Chancellor at the University of Lincoln and a resident in such a vibrant and beautiful place. Since my arrival I have taken the time to absorb all that is unique about the University and the city. I have met many fantastic and committed people, including those providing business and civic leadership in the region.

One of the dominant themes this year has been that of the impact of human activity on the planet’s climate. I therefore feel great responsibility in helping the university write the next chapter in its successful history. We will continue being a university that is crucial to the economic and cultural growth of the region, a key player in global higher education and a thought leader in creating a sustainable planet.

We have some great foundations that we must build upon. We were the only English university asked by the UK Government to exhibit at COP26, showcasing our work on increasing the productivity of agriculture whilst reducing the sector’s carbon impact. Together with our National Centre for Food Manufacturing we will help change the shape of food production. Other researchers are also helping to decarbonise the heavy industries in the north of the county.

Since declaring a climate and ecological emergency in 2019, we have worked hard to enhance the energy efficiency of our buildings and to create low carbon and biodiverse campuses. We took occupation of the new Lincoln Medical School in April. This is the most sustainable building on our campus and is designed to be thermally efficient – generating the energy it uses. The building is an architectural feat, including solar panels and a ‘living wall’ to encourage biodiversity.

We have work to ensure biodiversity though activities such as an urban bee garden, wildflower meadows, and hedgehog friendly spaces. These and other interventions have helped us gain the Ecocampus Platinum Award.

Meeting our ambitious carbon reduction targets will not be easy. It will require the commitment of all of us reduce energy consumption, choose efficiency travel options and cut the amount of waste we produce. The attitude of our students and staff gives me real confidence that we can, and will, make a real difference.

To help the next generation we are embedding sustainability in our teaching and learning and have recently introduced a Master’s Programme in Sustainability.

We realise that we can’t address the climate crisis alone. That’s why we’re working with partners across the City of Lincoln and wider county to develop partnerships to enhance sustainability. We were a founding partner for the Lincoln Climate Commission, which is working to develop a Net Zero roadmap for the city.

I am excited about what the future will be for the University of Lincoln as we set off on the next stage of our journey. We are proud that our student population comes from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and cultures. We plan to increase the diversity of our student body through the development of new models of learning. Short courses, earn as you learn, and digital provision will reach a wider, non-traveling, audience. We will also transfer the knowledge we create on sustainability and other research through licencing and transfer of intellectual property, consultancy assignments and company formation.

Much has already been achieved, notably we are rated among the UK’s top 20 universities for student satisfaction in the Guardian University Guide 2022 and the Complete University Guide 2022, and are placed among the world’s top 150 young universities in The Times Higher Education Young University Rankings 2021.

Just this month, it was announced by leading financial platform Tide that the University is in the top 10 in the country for producing business start-ups.

At subject level, Chemistry at Lincoln is now ranked 2nd in the UK behind only Oxford in the Guardian, and I feel this represents the high regard in which the University is now held.

I’ve been honoured over these past months to meet so many members of this amazing community. All of whom have been welcoming, inspiring, and a testament to how friendly Lincoln is. I wish all of our community and beyond a very merry Christmas, and a safe, peaceful and prosperous new year.

Professor Neal Juster is Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln