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The Higher Education sector is in turmoil. The Government consistently offers no clear leadership or vision and students, from 2012, will be burdened with a debt that is equivalent to a small mortgage. The level of uncertainty around the country’s institutions reflects the recent White Paper; students being told they will be at the heart of the system is a nice focus point, but without any concrete proposals it’s difficult to see how the sector will be improved.
University Vice-Chancellors need to be taking a renewed lead in the sector as they work to provide a university experience that justifies the fees students starting in 2012 will be paying. Here at Lancaster we will be welcoming our sixth V-C, Professor Mark Smith, in January and it is with great anticipation, as well as expectation, that we await his arrival. Professor Smith has a fantastic track record and has quickly risen through the ranks at Warwick. The incoming V-C will need to maintain and consolidate the University’s current position and research activity if Lancaster wishes to continue to be a top institution.
Professor Smith must provide concrete leadership in the obvious areas such as research, teaching, international partners and most recently ongoing talks over collaboration with Liverpool. These areas require great skill in leadership and will shape the immediate and long term future of Lancaster.
However, he must also understand the importance and role the Students’ Union has to play within the University. Student experience is, quite rightly, the buzz phrase around the sector and it is time for universities to recognise that; and specifically here in Lancaster. LUSU has a great track record of providing students with a wide variety of opportunities that give new experiences, are fun and make students more employable. Moving forward, further unlocked potential that LUSU has to offer can be realised through greater communication between the Union and University.
My challenge to the incoming V-C is to communicate and work proactively with LUSU; the potential to truly provide a fantastic and unique Lancaster experience is there to be realised. The year ahead will provide challenges for everyone within the sector, but it will also provide opportunities. It is an exciting time to be a student at Lancaster and already we are excited for the start of term in October.